Unlocking the Secrets of Star Dunes: What Scientists Discovered About These Massive Structures

Scientists have recently made a groundbreaking discovery regarding the age of one of Earth’s most unique natural formations – star dunes. These giant sand dunes, also known as pyramid dunes due to their distinct shape, can reach hundreds of meters in height and are found in various locations across the globe, including Africa, Asia, North America, and even on Mars.

Despite their prominent presence in deserts, experts were previously unable to determine the age of star dunes, making them somewhat of a mystery in the scientific community. However, a recent study led by Prof Geoff Duller from the University of Aberystwyth and Prof Charles Bristow from Birkbeck University has shed light on the formation of these enigmatic structures.

The study focused on a specific star dune named Lala Lallia, located in the Erg Chebbi sand sea in Morocco. Through the use of luminescence dating, a technique that determines the last exposure of sand grains to daylight, scientists were able to calculate that Lala Lallia formed approximately 13,000 years ago. This revelation marks a significant milestone in understanding the processes behind the creation of star dunes.

Prof Duller likened the mineral grains within the sand to “little rechargeable batteries,” explaining how they store energy from natural radioactivity while buried underground. By analyzing the energy release of these grains in the lab, researchers could accurately determine the age of the dune. The findings also highlighted the rapid growth of Lala Lallia, which paused for about 8,000 years before expanding significantly in recent millennia.

Moreover, the study uncovered that star dunes contribute valuable insights into past climate conditions, as their formation is influenced by opposing winds that alter direction. By deciphering the age of Lala Lallia, scientists gained a clearer understanding of the historical climate patterns that shaped the desert landscape.

In addition to Lala Lallia, other notable star dunes like Star Dune in Colorado, USA, offer glimpses into the geological diversity of these massive formations. Climbing these dunes, while challenging, rewards adventurers with breathtaking views from their summits, as Prof Duller attested.

The revelation of the age of star dunes not only demystifies their formation but also underscores the importance of geological research in unraveling the Earth’s history. As scientists continue to delve into the mysteries of our natural world, the discovery of Lala Lallia’s age stands as a testament to human curiosity and the enduring allure of scientific exploration.