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Bright dunes on Mars


Seasonal changes observed on the surface of Mars can in part be attributed to the transport of geological materials by wind1. Images obtained by orbiting spacecraft in the 1970s showed large wind-formed features such as dunes, and revealed regional time-varying albedos that could be attributed to the effects of dust erosion and deposition. But the resolution of these images was insufficient to identify different types and sources of aeolian materials, nor could they reveal aeolian deposits other than large dunes or extensive surface coverings that were redistributed by dust storms. Here we present images of Mars with up to 50 times better resolution. These images show that martian dunes include at least two distinct components, the brighter of which we interpret to be composed of relatively soft minerals, possibly sulphates. We also find large areas of the martian surface that have several metres or more of aeolian mantle lacking obvious bedforms.

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Figure 1: MOC images of bright and dark dunes on Mars.
Figure 2: MOC image showing blanketing material filling several craters that are 200–400 m in diameter.


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We acknowledge the technical help of M. Caplinger, J. Warren, M. Ravine, M. Ryan, M. Ockert-Bell, I. Dauber, R. Sullivan, K. Edgett, B. Carcich, A. Fox, A. Lowenkron & M. Roth.

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Correspondence to P. C. Thomas.

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Thomas, P., Malin, M., Carr, M. et al. Bright dunes on Mars. Nature 397, 592–594 (1999).

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