In a post entitled ‘Martian Morse Code’, NASA explains that that they are in fact Martian sand dunes which have been “influenced by local topography”.
While it might look like a Martian version of the Nazca Lines, there is sadly a perfectly reasonable explanation for these odd-looking geographical features.
“The shape and orientation of dunes can usually tell us about wind direction, but in this image, the dune-forms are very complex, so it’s difficult to know the wind direction.”
The patterns themselves sit within a large circular depression, most likely an impact crater.
According to NASA the circular depression is most likely a very old crater, which in turn has then protected the dunes from more severe winds.
“The ‘dashes’ are linear dunes formed by bi-directional winds, which are not traveling parallel to the dune. Instead, the combined effect of winds from two directions at right angles to the dunes, funnels material into a linear shape. The smaller ‘dots’ (called ‘barchanoid dunes’) occur where there is some interruption to the process forming those linear dunes. This process is not well understood at present and is one motivation for HiRISE to image this area.”
Even at close range though it’s clear that these sand dunes are unlike anything you would find on Earth.
In case you’re wondering, the dunes aren’t spelling out some secret message, they’re actually saying:
NEE NED ZB 6TNN DEIBEDH SIEFI EBEEE SSIEI ESEE SEEE !!
The stunning images were captures by HiRISE (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment), a powerful camera installed on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
Managed by the University of Arizona, HiRISE is able to capture images of the Martian surface at a resolution five times higher than previously possible.
One of HiRISE’s greatest moments was when it found the ill-fated Beagle 2 lander which had been lost on its journey to the surface of the planet back in 2003.