This broad field of barchan sand dunes – dunes with crescent shapes – in the Olympia Undae region near Mars’ northern polar cap was imaged by NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter. The image, showing a small segment of the dune field, was taken during summer when the surface was free of frost. The dunes cover an area of some 470,000 square kilometres (181,000 square miles), larger than the U.S. state of California, and surround about a quarter of the northern polar cap. It is the most expansive continuous field of dunes on Mars.
The space environment around a planet plays a key role in determining what molecules exist in the atmosphere – and whether the planet is habitable for life. New research shows that Venus has an “electric wind” strong enough to remove the components of water from its upper atmosphere, which may have played a significant role in stripping Earth’s twin planet of its oceans.