This breathtaking Martian vista is a crucial lookout for danger (Image Credit: Mashable)
In a mission update, Sharon Wilson Purdy, a planetary geologist at Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, described the location on Mars as a “mouth-watering vantage point” to document a section of the ridge dubbed Fascination Turret.
“We hope to evaluate the processes that deposited the sediment in this ridge to understand how it formed and how it was later eroded to its present-day form,” she wrote for the U.S. space agency.
It’s spring here in the southern hemisphere of Mars – and with it comes dust season. 🌪️
I’m on the lookout for dust devils that might pop up around me, and this downhill view gives my team a chance to see if there’s any dusty gusts through the canyons I’ve driven through. pic.twitter.com/b3RwwEMp6J
— Curiosity Rover (@MarsCuriosity) February 1, 2024
Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech
Scientists have long known the hazards of dust devils churning up Martian dirt. About 12 years ago, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter caught sight of an extraordinary one with a plume stretching 12 miles into the sky.
Dust devils on Mars form similarly to those on Earth, despite the fact that Mars’ atmosphere is much thinner. They tend to happen on dry days when the ground gets hotter than the surrounding area, according to NASA. Typically smaller than tornadoes, dust devils are whirlwinds that make a funnel-like chimney, channeling hot air up and around.
The rotating wind accelerates similar to the way spinning ice skaters move faster as they bring their arms closer to their bodies.
Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / UA
But on Mars, this wind phenomenon leaves tracks — straight lines, curves, and curlicues — where it has traveled. The color is a result of picking up the light dust coating virtually all of the Red Planet, exposing layers of dark volcanic rocks.
Right now, Curiosity’s team is bracing for potential global dust storms. All previous ones of this scale observed by NASA scientists have happened between now and September. The team is busy measuring atmospheric dust levels.
“Although these huge atmospheric events are generally separated by many years,” said astronomer Deborah Padgett in a mission post, “the last sky-darkening global Martian dust storm in 2018 ended the mission of our beloved Opportunity Rover.”