Curiosity rover meets the “dust devil”

On the surface of Mars, the “devil” is filmed – this is how scientists call specific dust tornadoes that now and then occur in different places. The cameras of the Curiosity rover were able to capture the mesmerizing phenomenon.

The atmosphere of Mars is much thinner than the atmospheres of many planets and bodies of the solar system, however, many interesting phenomena are observed in it, attracting the attention of scientists, and forcing them to send entire scientific missions to study it. So, it is known that water ice in the atmosphere of Mars can rise to great heights and form thin clouds. And in May 2019, black and white navigation cameras of the Curiosity rover captured such clouds flying at an altitude of over 30 kilometers.

In this case, the strongest winds are capable of causing the most powerful dust storms that cover half of the planet, or create columns of dust that rise to the border with space. So, during a strong dust storm in 2018, a giant dust column formed on the surface of Mars, which rose to a height of 80 kilometers.

Therefore, it comes as no surprise to scientists when Curiosity, the only rover on the planet, now working in Gale Crater, manages to capture other unexpected phenomena.

So, the other day the rover’s camera filmed the movement of a dust tornado on the rocky surface of the crater.

Summer is now coming in the southern hemisphere of the planet, and the atmosphere is getting warmer. As on Earth, heating of the atmosphere leads to its strong mixing, and the appearance of unusual effects. “Increased surface heating results in strong convection and convective vortices, which are made up of fast winds billowing around low pressure areas,” wrote atmospheric phenomena team member Cdere Newman in her science blog. “If these vortices are strong enough, they can kick up dust from the surface and become visible, like the ‘dust devils’ that we can capture with our cameras.”

Dust devils are not new to Mars. These tornadoes are formed in about the same way as on Earth. They usually appear on a relatively flat, dry surface, near which the air is warmer than above.
This warm air rises upward as it passes through the colder, denser air, which in turn forms downdrafts.

If at the same time there is a horizontal wind, a tornado arises, which can move in space.

Dust tornadoes occur on the surface of Mars quite often, however, scientists recognize their presence by their characteristic tracks: moving along the surface, they leave intricate patterns behind them. But it is quite rare to see the devil live – the capabilities of the rover are too limited and these mysterious phenomena are too short-lived.

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