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Mars Dust Devil Photo: Opportunity Rover Captures Twister on Red Planet

Image: Mars Dust Devil Photo: Opportunity Rover Captures Twister on Red Planet
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By    |   Wednesday, 06 Apr 2016 08:48 AM

A Mars dust devil was captured in a photo snapped by NASA's Opportunity rover on April 1, but don't let the date fool you, it's certainly real.

The dust devil was spotted spinning in the Meridiani Planum, where the rover has been exploring since 2004, according to Mashable.com.

"This is one of the best dust devils that we have seen in Meridiani Planum," said Ray Arvidson, the deputy principal investigator for Opportunity. "We are lucky to have captured this one in an image."

"We have seen many dust devils while the Spirit rover was still operating in Gusev Crater. In contrast these are rare events at the Meridiani site," Arvidson added.

NASA wrote in 2005 that dust devils on Mars are created essentially the same way they are on Earth.

"You need strong surface heating, so the ground can get hotter than the air above it," Mark T. Lemmon, an atmospheric sciences associate research scientist at Texas A&M, said at the time.

Lemmon said, according to NASA, that heated, less-dense air close to the ground rises and penetrates the layer of cooler denser air above; while plumes of hot air and falling plumes of cool air begin circulating vertically in convection cells.

He said that if a horizontal gust of wind blows through, "it turns the convection cells on their sides, so they begin spinning horizontally, forming vertical columns – and starting a dust devil."

NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) once captured the image of a 12-mile-high dust devil in 2012, Mashable.com reported, which demonstrated how the planet can still produce the tornado-looking dust columns despite its thin atmosphere.

New Scientist reported in 2005 that NASA researchers theorized that a dust devil actually cleared dust off of the rover Spirit.

"The power output of the rover's solar panels had been reduced by almost half because of a year's worth of accumulated dust," wrote New Scientist then. "But on 9 March, the output shot up to 93 percent of its initial level, giving it more power for future exploration.

"Images looking down at the rover's deck show an almost pristine surface, with just a few small tails of dust, compared to the dingy surface seen just a day earlier," New Scientist stated.

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A Mars dust devil was captured in a photo snapped by NASA's Opportunity rover on April 1, but don't let the date fool you, it's certainly real.
mars, dust devil, opportunity rover
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2016-48-06
Wednesday, 06 Apr 2016 08:48 AM
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