Categories: Mars

Gallery: Bizarre Dunes on Mars


Say the word “dunes” and the image that likely comes to mind is the sort of features you’d see in the Sahara Desert; huge mounds of carmel-colored shifting sand. But on Mars, dunes take on an entirely different connotation, and with the orbital eyes of the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, we’ve seen some pretty bizarre-looking dunes. Take the image above for example, a newly released photo of well-speckled dunes in Mars’ north polar region. 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,” writes Serina Diniega on the HiRISE website. “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.”

See below for more weird dunes on Mars.

Dunes in Aonia Terra on Mars. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

These dunes look as through someone has thrown a rippled blue-toned cloth across Mars’ surface. HiRISE is monitoring these dunes in Aonia Terra for changes such as gullies, which form over the winter from the action of carbon dioxide frost. This image was taken on January 18, 2012 here on Earth, but the season in on Mars where this was taken was late fall in the Southern hemisphere. “Frost is just starting to accumulate here, and is concentrated on pole-facing slopes and in the troughs between the meter-scale ripples,” wrote HiRISE Principal Investigator Alfred McEwen.

Dunes in Russell Crater Dunes on Mars. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona
Pink dunes with black polka-dot speckles. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona
A wide area of dunes in Terra Cimmeria look as if they are being viewed under water. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona
Fans and polygons on Dunes. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona
Dark sand dunes at high Northern latitudes on Mars are covered seasonally by a layer of condensed carbon dioxide (dry ice), visible in this image. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Chocolate dunes? Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

See more great images from Mars on the HiRISE website

Nancy Atkinson

Nancy has been with Universe Today since 2004, and has published over 6,000 articles on space exploration, astronomy, science and technology. She is the author of two books: "Eight Years to the Moon: the History of the Apollo Missions," (2019) which shares the stories of 60 engineers and scientists who worked behind the scenes to make landing on the Moon possible; and "Incredible Stories from Space: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Missions Changing Our View of the Cosmos" (2016) tells the stories of those who work on NASA's robotic missions to explore the Solar System and beyond. Follow Nancy on Twitter at and and Instagram at and

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