• Researchers detected the movement of megaripples on Mars
  • Megaripples were previously believed to be static structures
  • The findings provide new information on the strength of Martian winds

For the first time, a team of researchers was able to detect the movements of massive natural structures known as “megaripples” on Mars. According to the researchers, their findings indicate just how powerful Martian winds can be.

Details of the researchers’ discovery were presented in a new paper published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets. They conducted their study by going over the images captured using the High Resolution Imaging Experiment (HiRISE) camera of NASA’s’ Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

For the study, the researchers focused on the activities of megaripples, which are massive sand waves that form on the surface of Mars. It was previously believed that these natural structures do not move.

Recently, researchers discovered new evidence showing the movements of megaripples. They made the discovery after monitoring the Martian regions Nili Fossae and the McLaughlin crater through images taken by HiRISE from 2007 to 2016. During this period, the researchers learned that the megaripples in Nili Fossae and McLaughlin crater moved slowly at an average speed of about 12 centimeters or 4.7 inches a year.

The researchers speculated that the slow speed of the megaripples was most likely the reason why it was believed that the massive structures did not move.

“Martian megaripples are often considered to be static relics of a past climate where the atmosphere was denser,” the researchers wrote in their study. “Here we show the first evidence for the movement of bright megaripples on Mars showing that some of these bedforms can be active today and do not require past climatic states for their origin as has been assumed.”

Aside from obtaining the first evidence of the movement of megaripples, the researchers noted that their study shows a new aspect of Mars’ atmospheric and climate conditions. They explained that their findings indicate that the winds on Mars are powerful enough to move the massive sand structures across the surface.

“Active megaripples, together with high‐sand flux dunes, represent a key indicator of strong winds at the surface of Mars,” the researchers explained. “A past climate with a denser atmosphere is not necessary to explain their accumulation and migration.”

The mound in the center of this Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter image appears to have blocked the path of the dunes as they marched south (north is to the left in this image) across the scene. Smaller dunes run perpendicular to some of the larger-scale dunes, probably indicating a shift in wind directions in this area. NASA/JPL/University of Arizona