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Sand ripples tell tales about Mars’ climate

Image: Mars sand ripples
Two sizes of ripples can be seen in this view of a Martian sand dune. The larger ripples are roughly 10 feet apart, and unlike any type seen in earthly sand fields. The smaller ripples, superimposed on the larger ripples, are similar to those seen on Earth. (Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS)

The sands of Mars move in mysterious ways – including one way that’s not seen on Earth’s surface, but only on the sandy bottom of bodies of water. And the scientists behind NASA’s Curiosity rover mission say those weird medium-sized ripples can reveal how Mars’ atmosphere has changed, or not, over the course of billions of years.

The alien ripples are the focus of a research paper published today by the journal Science.

“Earth and Mars both have big sand dunes and small sand ripples, but on Mars, there’s something in between that we don’t have on Earth,” Caltech researcher Mathieu Lapotre said in a NASA news release. Lapotre, who works with the Curiosity mission’s science team, is the lead author of the Science report.

The report is based on a close-up examination of the Bagnold Dunes, a stretch of Martian sand that Curiosity passed through as it made its way toward the foothills of 3-mile-high Mount Sharp (a.k.a. Aeolis Mons).

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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