Investigating Mars: Olympia Undae

Scaled Image

Image Credit: NASA/JPL/ASU

About this image

This VIS image of Olympia Undae was collected during north polar summer. The dunes are now completely frost free and are dark in color due to being made of basaltic sand. The surface between the dunes, where visible, is a bright tone. In some regions of dense dunes, the bright material may be a deposit on the dunes rather than the underlying surface. The presence of gypsum has been suggested for Olympia Undae, gypsum is a lighter tone than basalt in this filter of the THEMIS VIS camera. This VIS image hightlights the density of dunes, the bottom third of the image has fewer dunes, spaced farther apart than the top two thirds of the image. The bottom of the image "looks" like lace, while the top with the dense dunes with aligned dune crests "looks" like waves in an ocean. The term used for dune fields on Mar is undae (unda singular). This term translates from Latin as water waves and is used to mean undulatory in planetary nomenclature. All non-Earth dune fields in the solar system are called unda/undae.

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. 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.

The 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 dunes fields. We hope you enjoy these images!

Please see the THEMIS Data Citation Note for details on crediting THEMIS images. 


Image ID: 
V13138003 (View data in Mars Image Explorer)
2004-11-30 03:49
Wed, 2018-03-14
1024 pixels (19 km)
3648 pixels (68 km)
0.018885 km/pixel
0.0191986 km/pixel


PNG | JPEG (high res) | JPEG (reduced res) | PDF | TIFF