A Changing Martian Gathering (Planetary Science)

The image of the Martian dunes celebrates the five years since the beginning of the Esa-Roscosmos ExoMars mission, which departed from Earth on March 14, 2016 and in scientific activity around the Red Planet since April 2018. This desert extract of seventy square meters is located in interior of the Lomonosov crater, in the northern hemisphere of Mars

Seeing it like this, ignoring the length scale at the bottom left, who could say where it was taken and what exactly this image depicts? With little imagination, one might think that the central part resembles the wrinkled skin of an elephant – of the rare Kenyan red elephant , for example, whose coloring is due to the dry baths that it usually takes while rolling on the ground in Tsavo East National Park. But perhaps someone will immediately connect red to a planet that – unlike ours – makes this color its characteristic trait. Yes, these seventy (approximately) square kilometers come from a wrinkled and arid – at least as much as the skin of the African specimen above – Martian soil.

It is a spectacular dune field in the center of the Lomonosov crater , deep in the northern hemisphere of Mars (65N, 351E), captured here by the Cassis camera aboard the Trace Gas Orbiter ( Tgo ) of the Esa and Roscosmos ExoMars mission . The shot dates back to 2 December 2020, and is part of an observation campaign that followed the evolution of the dune field during the year.

At that time, early December, the northern winter was coming to an end on Mars and the frost had begun to sublimate: in the regions we see darker, the frost has already given way to darker basaltic sand. It happens throughout the right portion of the image, also characterized by the presence of bright clouds that contrast with the ground below. Finally, you will notice that the crests of the dunes have an ordered orientation: it is the wind that generates this almost geometric effect. It is blowing – referring to the image – from the bottom left corner to the top right corner.

The image was chosen by ESA on the occasion of the five-year anniversary of the mission’s launch. In fact, Tgo was launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on March 14, 2016, arriving on Mars seven months later. He spent several months in aerobraking – taking advantage of the friction of the planet’s upper atmosphere to slow down – to then begin scientific operations in April 2018.

Tgo, as the name suggests, is an orbiter designed to carry out atmospheric analyzes thanks to its spectrometers (Nomad and Acs), which have, among other things, detected the presence of hydrogen chloride in the atmosphere of the Red Planet. The Cassis camera also captured more than 20,000 portraits of the surface, also useful as a guide for other tools. And last but not least, the orbiter also acts as a telecommunications satellite used by several landers and rovers for their routine connections.

Featured image: Dunes immortalized on 02 December 2020 by the Cassis camera aboard the Tgo orbiter. Credits: Esa / Roscosmos / Cassis


This science news is confirmed by us from INAF


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