These barchan (crescent-shaped) sand dunes are found within the North Polar erg of Mars. This type of dune provides a great record of the wind environment when they formed and moved: barchan dunes’ horns point downwind. Although the question of present-day sand motion is still open, it appears possible that these dunes are active (when not covered in frost) as their crestlines are very sharp and their slipfaces (the inner curved region between the horns/downwind surface) appears very smooth and steep.
In this image, taken during the northern spring season, the dunes and ground are still covered in seasonal frost. The speckled appearance is due to the warming of the area — as the carbon dioxide frost and ice on the dunes warms, small areas warm and sublimate (turn from solid to gas) faster, creating small jets that expose/deposit dark sand and dust onto the surface. Notice that there are no spots on the ground between the dunes — that is because the ground stays more uniformly cold, unlike the darker dune sand.
As spring continues, more spots will appear on the dunes until, suddenly, all of the frost on the dunes and ground will be gone and the dark dune sand will be exposed until next winter.
Written by: Serina Diniega (22 February 2012)
More info and image formats at http://hirise.lpl.arizona.edu/ESP_025579_2580
Image: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona