Perseverance Rover Captures 1.2-Mile-High Dust Devil in Action on Mars

On August 30th, 2023, during its 899th Martian day (sol 899) of the mission, NASA’s Perseverance rover made an intriguing discovery as it explored the Jezero Crater on Mars. It captured images of a dust devil, a common phenomenon on the Martian surface.

These images were obtained using one of the rover’s Navigation Cameras (NavCams) and were compiled into a video sequence composed of 21 frames, taken at four-second intervals and sped up by a factor of 20.

Dust devils on Mars are similar to the small, short-lived whirlwinds seen on Earth. They form when pockets of hot air near the Martian surface rise rapidly through the cooler air above. The study of these dust devils provides valuable insights into Mars’ atmosphere and aids in the improvement of Martian weather models.

The particular dust devil observed by Perseverance appeared at the western rim of the Jezero Crater, in an area nicknamed “Thorofare Ridge.” Analysis of the images revealed that the dust devil was approximately 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) away from the rover and had a diameter of about 60 meters (200 feet).

Although the images captured only the lower 118 meters (387 feet) of the swirling vortex, scientists were able to estimate its full height. Additionally, they determined that it was moving from east to west at a speed of approximately 19 kilometers per hour (12 miles per hour).

Dust devils on Mars are a regular occurrence and tend to be significantly larger than their terrestrial counterparts due to the planet’s low-pressure conditions. Along with massive dust storms that can engulf the entire planet, these whirlwinds play a crucial role in transporting and redistributing dust across Mars’ surface.

These dust devils are most active during the spring and summer seasons, but their appearance at specific locations cannot be predicted in advance. Hence, the Perseverance rover continually monitors the Martian atmosphere in all directions to detect signs of these phenomena.

Characterizing Mars’ atmosphere is one of the primary objectives of the Perseverance mission, as well as that of its fellow rover, Curiosity.

When a dust devil is identified, the rovers capture multiple black-and-white images, which are then studied by mission scientists to gain a deeper understanding of atmospheric dynamics on Mars. The use of black-and-white images helps conserve data transmission back to Earth.

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