NASA’s Curiosity rover has boldly gone where no robotic probe has gone before: a Martian sand dune.


NASA’s probe is currently exploring a section of the “Bagnold Dunes,” which is located along the northwestern flank of Mount Sharp. It’s the first time in history that a robotic probe has studied a Martian sand dune up close.

This remarkable image (above) shows a super close-up view of an undisturbed patch of Martian sand. These course grains remain on the surface as smaller particles get sifted downwards when the wind blows.

In this image, an imprint of Curiosity’s tire track is clearly visible in the sand. Curiosity snapped this photo on November 27, 215 using its Mastcam. Looking at the rippled surface of the dune, it’s clear that the sand is quite loose. NASA says the dunes are quite active, shifting upwards of an entire yard, or meter, each year.

This view shows grains in a sand sheet near a large dune. It measures 1.3 inches by 1.0 inch (3.3 by 2.5 centimeters), and was taken by Curiosity’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI). NASA says the “disturbance by the wheel exposed interior material of the sand body, including finer sand grains than on the undisturbed surface. Sunlight is coming from the left.”


Last but not least, check out this glorious money-shot:

Frank Herbert would be proud.



Given how loose the sand is, Mission planners need to be careful that the probe doesn’t get stuck, otherwise Curiosity’s journey on the Red Planet would come to an untimely and tragic end.


Email the author at and follow him at @dvorsky. All images by NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS