NASA's Perseverance rover spotted an incredible natural phenomenon on the surface of Mars - a dust devil, something that most previous missions had also seen but not from this close. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Stunning Footage from Mars Reveals Red Planet Isn’t Barren After All

Dust devils have been observed during past Mars missions but this one was a first for Perseverance.

The Perseverance rover continues to impress with new photos and videos from Mars. This time, the rover captured a dust devil that rushed past Perseverance. The spectacular video shows what the surface of Mars looks like and a unique phenomenon that has rarely been captured in the past.

By the way, such natural phenomena are familiar to the surface of the Red Planet, but few of the previous Martian missions could show these dust eddies from this close. Perseverance is equipped with much better equipment than its predecessors which allows it to take much better footage.

These twisters, commonly known as “dust devil”, are a manifestation of Martian wind activity, on a local scale. This phenomenon usually occurs most frequently during the summer. The largest can go up to 8 kilometers in height, which is far more than the dust eddies on Earth (which can reach ten meters).

Thanks to various exploration missions on Mars, we learned of the existence of dust devils decades ago. In the 1970s, the Viking missions first imaged these phenomena.

If you want to see a complete animation and visuals of a moving dust vortex that occurred in March 2012 from observations of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, visit this page. NASA’s other currently active Martian rover, Curiosity, also spotted dust swirls several years ago.

In addition, this phenomenon was captured by the Spirit rover in 2005. The collision of the vortex with the rover was inevitable but ended well. It was the “dust devil” that cleared the rover’s solar panels, after which the level of energy it received increased. The following sequence shows the natural phenomena as it was seen by the Spirit rover but additionally colorized.

A dust devil seen by Spirit on May 15, 2005 (colorized version). Credit: Wikimedia/CC/NASA/JPL/Bernard de Go Mars
A dust devil seen by Spirit on May 15, 2005 (colorized version). Credit: Wikimedia/CC/NASA/JPL/Bernard de Go Mars

In addition to offering impressive images, these phenomena are interesting to study. As NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory explains, better understanding these dust swirls allows us to learn more about atmospheric conditions, such as wind direction and speed.

“They also periodically clean the surface of dust that gradually settles from the atmosphere,” JPL explains.

In addition to dust devils which are not particularly dangerous, NASA’s previous missions have experienced certain difficulties with the global dust storms that usually continue for weeks at a time. One such gigantic storm brought the Opportunity rover to its end in 2018. The rover was unable to recharge the power necessary to heat itself and froze.

This shows how the missions Martians can be dependent on the weather, and why it is therefore so essential to study it. However, Perseverance is nuclear-powered which means that long-lasting dust storms cannot lead to the same issues as the old Opportunity. 

Dust devils, in turn, can hardly cause any damage to a rover although they can get significantly large. Overall, Perseverance should be pretty safe over the course of its entire mission. If problems occur, they will likely not be connected to the atmospheric dangers present on Mars.


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Sources:

Howell, E. (2021, March 17). Perseverance rover spots its First dust devil on Mars.
Kooser, A. (2021, March 17). Watch a blustery dust devil WHIRL across Mars in this NASA Perseverance ROVER VIEW.
Robitzski, D. (2021, March 17). NASA’s perseverance rover just spotted a Tiny twister on Mars.
Whitwam, R. (2021, March 17). Perseverance rover spots a dust devil on mars.

Written by Vladislav Tchakarov

Hello, my name is Vladislav and I am glad to have you here on Curiosmos. My experience as a freelance writer began in 2018 but I have been part of the Curiosmos family since mid-2020. As a history student, I have a strong passion for history and science, and the opportunity to research and write in this field on a daily basis is a dream come true.

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