North Polar Gypsum Dunes in Olympia Undae

These sand dunes are a type of aeolian bedform and partly encircle the Martian North Pole in a region called Olympia Undae.

Unlike most of the sand dunes on Mars that are made of the volcanic rock basalt, these are made of a type of sulfate mineral called gypsum. Whence the sand? Well, gypsum is a mineral that can often form from the evaporation of water that has sulfur and calcium dissolved in it. This sand was probably sourced from a northern region on Mars that used to be quite wet. The boxy gridding of the dunes indicates that the wind blows in multiple directions.

Note: “Aeolian” means wind-blown and “bedform” means piles of sediment shaped by a flowing fluid (liquid or gas).

Written by: Kirby Runyon (audio: Tre Gibbs)   (15 July 2016)

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Image: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona