It’s summertime on Mars where NASA’s Curiosity rover is exploring, and that means it’s windy there— and the one-ton rover has captured blowing dust devils traveling across the planet’s surface in the afternoon.
NASA published a video yesterday showing several whirlwinds dancing within the rover’s camera’s field of vision.
The Martian atmosphere is much different than the one on Earth— it’s about one-hundred times thinner, meaning that the winds don’t blow with as much force. Still, they’re clearly enough to whip up some Marian dust. Those dust devils are formed by the sun heating up the ground, causing the air to rise.
The Curiosity rover is exploring a mountain that’s within the Gale crater. Besides the whirlwinds, the rover is also studying sand dunes and how the wind shifts the ripples in the sand, which are evocative of the patterns you might see in shallow water at the beach.
"We're keeping Curiosity busy in an area with lots of sand at a season when there's plenty of wind blowing it around," Curiosity project scientist Ashwin Vasavada of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said, in a statement. "One aspect we want to learn more about is the wind's effect on sorting sand grains with different composition. That helps us interpret modern dunes as well as ancient sandstones.”
Curiosity has been exploring Mars since it landed there in 2012.