These Apparent Martian Sandworms Use Wind to Organize Themselves

Mars is a very peculiar place. At least, that’s what we uncovered so far, using the human-made hardware already in place or on the surface, but the reality will probably be even stranger when humans eventually set foot there.
Sandworm-like features in the Terra Cimmeria region of Mars 6 photos
Photo: NASA/JPL/UArizona
Sandworm-like features in the Terra Cimmeria region of MarsTerra Cimmeria region of MarsTerra Cimmeria region of MarsTerra Cimmeria region of MarsTerra Cimmeria region of Mars
Generally speaking, we here on Earth have this image of Mars in our heads that paints the planet in various shades of orange, with plains stretching as far as the eyes can see, and with the occasional mountain or outcrop popping up to break up the monotony.

But the real Mars is much more diverse and fascinating than that, and for years now NASA and the University of Arizona, who run the HiRISE camera in orbit around the planet, have been trying to give us a true sense of the place.

The photo you’re looking at now was taken by HiRISE back in December 2018, and pushed back into focus this year by the two organizations. It shows a region in the Southern Hemisphere of the planet called Terra Cimmeria.

Taken from an altitude of 251 km (156 miles), the pic shows some formations scientists call dune-like sandy landforms, or bedforms. This particular image is described as showing “an unusual class of hybrid bedforms,” consistent in shape and tone, but several orders of magnitude larger than usual in size or spacing, going from 10 meters (33 feet) to several hundred meters.

“This is unusual variability for bedforms that evolve over long time scales and consistent climate of recent Mars. A Mars geomorphologist might classify some of these as small dunes or giant ripples, depending on their perspective,” the two organizations say.

According to the people studying Mars, these formations, made out of local sediment, have a tendency to self-organize in distinct shapes and patterns, dictated by wind and other factors in the region.

To some of us, they kind of look similar to the Shai-Hulud-like features shown not long ago in Melas Chasma, a canyon in the Valles Marineris region of Mars.
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Editor's note: Gallery shows the Terra Cimmeria region of Mars.

About the author: Daniel Patrascu
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Daniel loves writing (or so he claims), and he uses this skill to offer readers a "behind the scenes" look at the automotive industry. He also enjoys talking about space exploration and robots, because in his view the only way forward for humanity is away from this planet, in metal bodies.
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