Curiosity finds petrified sand dunes on Mars

A bit tired of flying around Pluto in the outer ridges of our solar system? Then perhaps it's time to zoom back into our own nearby neighborhood, because the Curiosity has something interesting to share. The Martian rover has just finished taking its latest album of the red planet, which NASA has stitched up together into one glorious panorama. Lo and behold, the images revealed some petrified sand dunes not unlike those found here on Earth, which could hold more clues to Mars' ancient past.

The sand dunes have been formed by deposits of sandstone. Over time, thanks to blowing wind, the sandstone formation took on a crossbedding structure, where sets of bedding lie in angles to each other. This is a similar type of formation that can be found in the Southwest regions of the US, like those in Utah.

More than the discovery of the sand dunes themselves, these structures could also reveal more details about Mars' ancient environment. The formation overlies a layer of mudstone, an occurrence that normally happens in a lake environment. This, once again, strengthens theories of ancient Mars' large bodies of water. Curiosity has regularly been examining such mudstone deposits, like those found in the base layer of Mars' Mount Sharp, which the rover reached a little more than a year ago.

Curiosity started capturing this new collection of images last August 27, an activity that took two weeks and 94 meters to complete. The rover will continue digging for sandstone samples from this vast land formation this month, which will then be analyzed to search for clues as to what happened to turn what was theorized to be a largely aquatic environment into the red planet that it is today.