NASA Mars rover spies 200-foot-wide dust devil moving across red planet’s surface

A new compilation of images from NASA’s Perseverance Mars Rover appears to show a dust devil twister dancing across the surface of the red planet, about 2.5 miles away from the six-wheeled geologist.

NASA said only the lower portion of the twister was seen moving along the western rim of Mars’ Jezero Crater, on Aug. 30, 2023.

The images were snapped on Perseverance’s 899th day on Martian soil.

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NASAs Mars Perseverance rover snapped several images of a dust devil moving across the Martian surface. (NASA)

The 21 pictures snapped four seconds apart by one of the rover’s Navcams, were put together and sped up by about 20 times to show the motion of the dust devil.

On Mars, dust devils are weaker and smaller than tornadoes on Earth, NASA said, but they are one of the ways dust on the planet is moved and redistributed.

The phenomena are often studied by scientists to understand the atmosphere of Mars while also helping to improve current weather models.

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Mars rover

This image made available by NASA shows an illustration of NASA’s Perseverance rover landing safely on Mars. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Handout via Xinhua) (Xinhua/NASA/JPL-Caltech via Getty Images) (Getty Images)

Based on the images, NASA said, mission scientists believe the dust devil was about 2.5 miles away on the “Thorofare Ridge,” moving east to west about 12 mph.

The width was calculated to be nearly 200 feet wide, and although the bottom 387 feet of the twister was captured, scientists estimate it to be over a mile high.

“We don’t see the top of the dust devil, but the shadow it throws gives us a good indication of its height,” Mark Lemmon, a planetary scientist at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado, and a member of the Perseverance science team said. “Most are vertical columns. If this dust devil were configured that way, its shadow would indicate it is about 1.2 miles (2 kilometers) in height.”

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NASA's Perseverance Mars rover took a selfie

NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover took a selfie with several of the 10 sample tubes it deposited at a sample depot it is creating within an area of Jezero Crater nicknamed “Three Forks.” The image was taken by the WATSON (Wide Angle Topographic Sensor for Operations and eNgineering) camera on the end of the rover’s robotic arm on Jan. 22, 2023, the 684th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

On Earth, dust devils form when rising warm air mixes with descending columns of cooler air.

NASA also said Martian versions of dust devils can grow to be much larger than the dust devils found on Earth.

Scientists are still working to get a better understanding of when dust devils will appear in a specific location.

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The rover has been exploring the Jezero Crater since landing there over two years ago, with hopes of eventually seeking out signs of ancient microbial life.

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