NASA's Curiosity rover has sent home images of a stunning dust devil storm somewhere on the surface of Mars.
NASA’s Opportunity rover has been scanning the surface of the red planet, Mars for almost 13 years, but the data and images it sends back to Earth continue to wow scientists. According to a report from PC Magazine, the latest image sent home by Opportunity reveals a massive dust devil hot on the trail of the rover.
The photo, while certainly exciting to look at, also offers new insights about the weather on the surface of Mars. The dust devil was formed by a rising, spinning column of warm air, much like the ones you’d see here on Earth. The column of air picks up dust and debris from the ground and carries it along, creating a visible spinning mini-tornado rushing across the ground.
The event was captured on the north slope of a region known as “Knudsen Ridge” to NASA scientists. Researchers say dust devils are relatively common on both Mars and Earth, but the photo is some of the first evidence of the phenomenon on the red planet.
Scientists have ramped up research on Mars in recent years, in preparation of the proposed manned mission slated to occur sometime before 2030. While that deadline is far from firm, researchers have been trying to learn everything they possibly can about the red planet before assembling the human and logistical components for the historic mission.
Just last year, NASA announced that they had discovered liquid water on Mars, a breakthrough finding that could shift the decision to send astronauts to the red planet in a certain direction. While the dust devil sighting is not nearly as big of a headline, it does offer new insights into the way the winds and the topography on Mars interact.
NASA’s Opportunity rover and its sister rover Spirit have been driving around the Martian surface since 2004, though Spirit has been out of commission since 2010. The two rovers have sent home countless images of the red planet and have excited a generation about the possibilities of further exploration of the solar system.
A press release from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory describing the details of the event can be found here.