Dust Devils Race Across Mars in New Movie

Dust Devils Race Across Mars in New Movie
NASA's Mars rover Spirit catches a bevy of dust devils race across Gusev Crater. (Image credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell.)

NASA's Mars rover Spirithas caught a bevy of dust devils racing across the surface of Mars, whichresearchers compiled into a stunning new movie.

While scaling Husband Hillat its Gusev Crater landing site, cameras aboardSpirit recorded several dust devils blowing across the Martian surface.Researchers condensed the windy devils' 12-minute, 17-second passing into ashort black and white movie clip. [Click hereto see the movie.]

"Windprocesses are the only active processes that we know are happening on Mars," saidrover science team member Patrick Whelley, who hasbeen studying the dust devil images, in a telephone interview. "They're shortterm geologically and occur...[but] they have shaped thelandscape."

Although NASA released thedust devil movie on Aug. 19, Spirit actually photographed them during its 543rdday (July 13, 2005) exploring Mars. The images have not been processed toenhance the contrast of the dust devils.

Spirit first observed dust devils onMars near the beginning of the region's spring season. While they increased infrequency as the season wore on, they dropped off for about two weeks during adust storm only to return in force once it had passed, NASA researchers said.

Whelley said images from Spirit and itsrobotic twin Opportunity show that dust devils perform an important role incontributing to the overall dust content in Mars' atmosphere, and provide anadditional tool for atmospheric modelers.

During early spring on Mars, dustdevils typically wind their way from southwest to northeast across streaks thatcan be seen from orbit. As the season moves forward, the windy objects movefrom northwest to southeast in the same direction of the streaks, Marsresearchers said, adding that scientists are still looking for the big dustdevils that etched those streaks into the surface.

"My hope isto be able to take what we know now at Gusev and thenapply it to the rest of the planet," Whelley said.

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Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of Space.com and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became Space.com's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining Space.com, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at Space.com and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.