NASA Rover Captures Shadowy Dust Devil Whirling Around Mars

Mars enthusiasts can expect to see more of these phenomena.
Deniz Yildiran
The photo credit line may appear like thisNASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA sends glimpses our way from time to time about dusty clouds, little ripples, and even massive dust storms, all thanks to Mars' turbulent surface and atmosphere.

NASA's Curiosity rover, which has recently started on a summer road trip on Mars, reportedly caught a dust devil on the Red Planet, in the Gale crater. Now that Mars is going through its "windy season", it is apparently time for some zippy dust devils. 

How do they form? 

As the already dry surface starts to heat up, producing stronger convection, the wind storms through it. As a result, the dust is pulled up into the air. 

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Obviously, this particular wind was strong enough to form a dust devil, and it was caught by the Navcam of the Curiosity rover. The rover had landed on the Red Planet back in 2012. 

The fairly short recording, which is about five minutes long, was taken on Sol 2847 of the rover's duty. Sols on Mars are what days on Earth are, but they're approximately 3% shorter than Earth's days.

NASA Rover Captures Shadowy Dust Devil Whirling Around Mars
Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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NASA reportedly processes raw recordings to make dust storms visible after shooting. This recording, even though it is not processed, is very clear. "But this dust devil was so impressive that - if you look closely! - you can just see it moving to the right, at the border between the darker and lighter slopes, even in the raw images," writes atmospheric scientist Claire Newman on the Mars Exploration blog.

As Newman indicates, dust devils are quite a subject to study. Thanks to the monitoring technologies of the Curiosity, they will be able to observe the very first places they start to form, whether they possess different sizes and their durations. As a plus, detecting how fast they whip around can also shed light on the background wind speed and direction.

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