Where In The Universe #86

by Nancy Atkinson on January 6, 2010

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Is this image strange, or what?! But the location of this image is somewhere out in the Universe. Your challenge is to figure out where. You know the drill: Take a look and name the location. Give yourself extra points if you can name the spacecraft responsible for the image. As usual, we’ll provide the image today, but won’t reveal the answer until tomorrow. This gives you a chance to mull over the image and provide your answer/guess in the comment section. Please, no links or extensive explanations of what you think this is — give everyone the chance to guess.

UPDATE: Answer has now been posted below.

Yes, this really is Mars, via the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. I liked all the other interesting answers, especially the boar’s pelt. This is a brand new image from HiRISE, and its nice to see the camera back in action once again (and in fine form, too!) after its recent hiatus due to the problematic safing events.

This image shows a region of sand dunes in the high northern latitudes on Mars. The features that look like bristles, and actually streaks on the crests of the dunes. In the winter, a layer of carbon dioxide ice covers the dunes, and in the spring as the sun warms the ice it evaporates. This is a very active process, and sand dislodged from the crests of the dunes cascades down, forming dark streaks.

If you look closely at the middle-left side of the image, you’ll see what looks like a “puff” (or go look at this larger image on the HiRISE page) This is actually another avalanche that HiRISE has captured, in action! The falling material has kicked up a small cloud of dust. The color of the ice surrounding adjacent streaks of material suggests that dust has settled on the ice at the bottom after similar events.

Another great shot, HiRISE! Weird, but great!

Check back next week for another WITU Challenge.


Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also works with Astronomy Cast, and is a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

paul.swanson January 7, 2010 at 9:57 AM

Mars, taken from MRO (I think).

A very strange image. Looks like palm trees in the desert.

Torbjorn Larsson OM January 7, 2010 at 10:12 AM

Is that the pelt of an old boar?

Seriously, processed images are difficult. ROCA nailed it though, it’s sand dunes at high northern latitudes on Mars. So HiRISE, so MRO.

Dori January 7, 2010 at 11:00 AM

It reminds me very much of the time when I saw a paramecium use its trichocysts against another organism, back many years ago when I was a bio major. So I’m going to take a wild guess and say that this could possibly be a living organism, perhaps a polychaete worm. Can’t wait to see what the real answer is!

aiabx January 7, 2010 at 12:26 PM

I’ll go for snowy hills on earth, near somewhere where loose red sand or soil is blowing around

Ringman January 7, 2010 at 1:23 PM

A HiRISE Image of CO2 Frost on Dunes on Mars

vagueofgodalming January 8, 2010 at 3:57 AM

Emily Lakdawalla tweeted this image yesterday so I know what it is.

Micah Sittig January 7, 2010 at 8:21 PM

No matter how I look at the picture, I cannot see the “trees/bristles” as sandslides down the dunes. Each row of “trees” seems to be associated with a white line (ice?) and a black line. It the white line the *source* of the slides, and the black line the bottom of the dune? I think my eyes are telling me it’s the other way around, which could be the source of the confusion. Probably because some of the black “trees” (eg just left of the puff mentioned in the post) seem to overlap the white lines of ice.

Navneeth January 8, 2010 at 9:08 AM

A request: Could you please post slightly larger version of the image or at least a link to one for the Challenge henceforth? It need not be embiggenable to cosmic proportions, but perhaps 50% larger or so than the one posted would do. :)

Aqua January 8, 2010 at 10:01 AM

THAT is an incredible image! WOW factor @ 10~
It looks so organic!

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