Even if the Red Planet has a thin atmosphere, its features are quite daring and intriguing. The water ice, for instance, can rise high in the sky to create thin clouds. The fierce winds can also whip up into uncontrolled dust tornadoes that shroud Mars or form dust pillars that extend almost into space.
NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover has recently captured a dust devil whirling across the Gale Crater’s floor. Seeing such a phenomenon can help scientists understand more about the seasonal atmospheric changes on Mars. Here is what you need to know.
NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover Brings Essential Data
Dust devils are very well understood, and they manifest the same way on both Earth and Mars. They evolve best in somehow dry, flat terrain when the air at the surface level is a bit warmer than the air above it.
That warm surface air extends through the denser, colder air, producing an updraft. If a horizontal wind then blows through this vertical circulation, a dust devil is unleashed.
On Mars, such weather phenomena are very common. Scientists know this because of the way the dust devils act, leaving enough traces. But, seeing a real dust devil is extremely rare on the Red Planet because scientists’ observational capabilities are limited.
However, NASA’s Curiosity rover succeeded in capturing a dust devil, using a Navcam on Sol 2847. The shot covers almost 5 minutes, and even though it seems blurry, the fact that we can take a glimpse at a dust devil is brilliant.
“This dust devil was so impressive that […], you can just see it moving to the right, at the border between the darker and lighter slopes, even in the raw images,” detailed atmospheric scientists Claire Newman.
The Curiosity rover is the only operational rover on Mars, so whatever surface data can be gathered on Martial dust devils is very limited. The Red Planet also has operational orbiters, which cover a lot more ground.
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