Watch a dust devil swirl across Mars in this video from NASA’s Perseverance rover (Image Credit: Space.com)
NASA’s Perseverance rover has given us a great look at a weather phenomenon that’s very familiar to folks who live in desert regions here on Earth.
The car-sized Perseverance captured video of a dust devil swirling on the western rim of Mars’ Jezero Crater on Aug. 30, 2023.
Mission team members calculated that the little twister was about 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) from Perseverance at the time and moving east to west at about 12 mph (19 kph). They determined it to be roughly 200 feet (60 meters) wide and got an estimated height on the object, too, even though its upper reaches are out of frame.
“We don’t see the top of the dust devil, but the shadow it throws gives us a good indication of its height,” Perseverance science team member Mark Lemmon, a planetary scientist at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado, said in a statement.
“Most are vertical columns,” Lemmon added. “If this dust devil were configured that way, its shadow would indicate it is about 1.2 miles (2 km) in height.”
Perseverance captured 21 images of the dust devil using one of its navigation cameras. The mission team stitched those photos together to make the new video, which was sped up by a factor of 20.
Perseverance landed on the floor of the 28-mile-wide (45 kilometers) Jezero in February 2021, on a mission to search for signs of past Mars life and collect and cache dozens of samples for future return to Earth.
Jezero is a great place to do such work, mission team members say, for the crater hosted a big lake and a river delta billions of years ago.
Perseverance has detected dozens of dust devils during its time on the Red Planet. In September 2021, for example, the rover captured audio of one of these whirlwinds — a first in the history of Mars exploration.
Perseverance’s dust devil observations are helping scientists better understand Mars’ atmosphere and improve their Red Planet weather models, NASA officials said in the same statement.