NASA’s Curiosity rover approaching active Martian sand dunes after latest drilling completed

The edge of a dark sand dune field can be seen in this white-balanced Curiosity image from sol 1115 (Sep. 25, 2015). Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
The edge of a dark sand dune field can be seen in this white-balanced Curiosity image from sol 1115 (Sep. 25, 2015). Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Mars is often referred to as a desert world, being bone-dry for the most part, with dust and sand blanketing most of the surface. Some regions are covered in vast sand dunes, reminiscent of deserts like the Sahara on Earth, only much colder. Gale crater, where the Curiosity rover landed in 2012, features extensive dune fields around the base of Mount Sharp, and the rover is now approaching some of them for the first time; their dark color makes them stand out starkly against the surrounding terrain. These dunes are also still active, meaning they are still mobile and shaped by the wind, not just old “fossil” (petrified) dunes which are no longer active.

Read MoreNASA’s Curiosity rover approaching active Martian sand dunes after latest drilling completed

A moon falling apart: grooves on Phobos are a sign of its eventual catastrophic fate

The unusual grooves on Phobos’ surface, such as those on the left side of this image, are now thought to be caused by tidal stress. The large crater Stickney is in the upper portion of the image. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona
The unusual grooves on Phobos’ surface, such as those on the left side of this image, are now thought to be caused by tidal stress. The large crater Stickney is in the upper portion of the image. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

Phobos is the largest of Mars’ two tiny moons, but 50 million years from now, that may no longer be the case. According to new research, Phobos is gradually being pulled apart by Mars’ gravity and will eventually be destroyed. The unusual long grooves on Phobos’ surface, which have been a puzzle for planetary scientists, are a key piece of evidence that point to eventual structural failure of this little worldlet.

Read MoreA moon falling apart: grooves on Phobos are a sign of its eventual catastrophic fate

Data from Spirit rover provides evidence for acid fog on ancient Mars

False-color mosaic of Cumberland Ridge, with pie charts representing iron-bearing mineralogy. Image Credit: S. Cole, PhD thesis; background image: NASA/JPL/Cornell/Arizona State University; Moessbauer values from Morris et al. 2008 (doi: 10.1029/2008JE003201)
False-colour mosaic of Cumberland Ridge, with pie charts representing iron-bearing mineralogy. Image Credit: S. Cole, PhD thesis; background image: NASA/JPL/Cornell/Arizona State University; Moessbauer values from Morris et al. 2008 (doi: 10.1029/2008JE003201)

The various rover and lander missions on Mars have provided unprecedented glimpses into the planet’s past, including geological history and environmental conditions. In many ways, ancient Mars was similar to Earth, with abundant water and volcanic activity. Now, new research has revealed that there was also another related Earth-like phenomenon: acid fog.

Read MoreData from Spirit rover provides evidence for acid fog on ancient Mars

Curiosity rover confirms ancient lake(s) in Gale crater on Mars

Sedimentary strata at the base of Mount Sharp as seen at the Kimberly location. The strata in the foreground dip toward Mount Sharp, providing evidence of the former lake-filled depression that used to exist before most of the mountain formed. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
Sedimentary strata at the base of Mount Sharp as seen at the Kimberly location. The strata in the foreground dip toward Mount Sharp, providing evidence of the former lake-filled depression that used to exist before most of the mountain formed. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Last week there was the exciting news that Mars still has flows of briny water occurring now, and this week there is more water-related news: additional findings from the Curiosity rover that the huge Gale crater was once a lake or series of lakes a long time ago. Curiosity had already found evidence that there used to be shallow lakes and streams in this area, but the new data confirms this and suggests that the lake(s) once filled Gale crater and were long-lasting, explaining the formation of Mount Sharp in the middle of the crater and also providing a potentially habitable environment for life.

Read MoreCuriosity rover confirms ancient lake(s) in Gale crater on Mars

Image Gallery: foothills of Mount Sharp (white-balanced)

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Another beautiful panoramic image of the foothills of Mount Sharp, taken by Curiosity on Sep. 9, 2015. The mesas, buttes and valleys can be seen in greater detail as the rover keeps getting closer. The image has been white-balanced to show the terrain under more Earth-like lighting conditions. The full-size version of the image is available here.

Read MoreImage Gallery: foothills of Mount Sharp (white-balanced)