THEMIS Image of the Day, March 7, 2018. This VIS image of Olympia Undae was collected early in north polar spring. The crests of the dunes are light colored, indicative of a frost covering. As the season changes into summertime, the dune crests will lose the frost and reveal the darker sand beneath.
The linear nature of transverse dunes can be seen at the bottom of the image. The density of dunes and the alignments of the dune crests varies with location, controlled by the amount of available sand and the predominant winds over time.
Olympia Undae is a vast dune field in the north polar region of Mars. It consists of a broad sand sea or erg that partly rings the north polar cap from about 120° to 240°E longitude and 78° to 83°N latitude. The dune field covers an area of approximately 470,000 km2 (bigger than California, smaller than Texas).
Olympia Undae is the largest continuous dune field on Mars. Olympia Undae is not the only dune field near the north polar cap, several other smaller fields exist in the same latitude, but in other ranges of longitude, e.g. Abolos and Siton Undae.
Barchan and transverse dune forms are the most common. In regions with limited available sand individual barchan dunes will form, the surface beneath and between the dunes is visible. In regions with large sand supplies, the sand sheet covers the underlying surface, and dune forms are found modifying the surface of the sand sheet.
In this case transverse dunes are more common. Barchan dunes “point” down wind, transverse dunes are more linear and form parallel to the wind direction. The “square” shaped transverse dunes in Olympia Undae are due to two prevailing wind directions.
NASA’s Mars Odyssey spacecraft has spent over 15 years in orbit around Mars, circling the planet more than 71,000 times. It holds the record for longest working spacecraft at Mars. THEMIS, the IR/VIS camera system, has collected data for the entire mission and provides images covering all seasons and lighting conditions.
Over the years many features of interest have received repeated imaging, building up a suite of images covering the entire feature. From the deepest chasma to the tallest volcano, individual dunes inside craters and dune fields that encircle the north pole, channels carved by water and lava, and a variety of other feature, THEMIS has imaged them all.
For the next several months the Image of the Day will focus on the Tharsis volcanoes, the various chasmata of Valles Marineris, and the major dune fields. We hope you enjoy these images!
More THEMIS Images of the Day by geological topic.