Mars Orbiter catches twister in action

Date:

Share post:

An afternoon whirlwind on Mars lofts a twisting column of dust more than half a mile (800 meters) high in an image from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. 

A towering dust devil casts a serpentine shadow over the Martian surface in this image acquired by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter [Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona]

HiRISE captured the image on Feb. 16, 2012, while the orbiter passed over the Amazonis Planitia region of northern Mars. In the area observed, paths of many previous whirlwinds, or dust devils, are visible as streaks on the dusty surface. 

The active dust devil displays a delicate arc produced by a westerly breeze partway up its height. The dust plume is about 30 yards or meters in diameter. 

The image was taken during the time of Martian year when that planet is farthest from the sun. Just as on Earth, winds on Mars are powered by solar heating. Exposure to the sun’s rays declines during this season, yet even now, dust devils act relentlessly to clean the surface of freshly deposited dust, a little at a time. 

Dust devils occur on Earth as well as on Mars. They are spinning columns of air, made visible by the dust they pull off the ground. Unlike a tornado, a dust devil typically forms on a clear day when the ground is heated by the sun, warming the air just above the ground. As heated air near the surface rises quickly through a small pocket of cooler air above it, the air may begin to rotate, if conditions are just right. 

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has been examining Mars with six science instruments since 2006. Now in an extended mission, the orbiter continues to provide insights into the planet’s ancient environments and how processes such as wind, meteorite impacts and seasonal frosts continue to affect the Martian surface today. This mission has returned more data about Mars than all other orbital and surface missions combined. 

More than 21,700 images taken by HiRISE are available for viewing on the instrument team’s website: http://hirise.lpl.arizona.edu . Each observation by this telescopic camera covers several square miles, or square kilometers, and can reveal features as small as a desk. 

HiRISE is operated by the University of Arizona, Tucson. The instrument was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Boulder, Colo. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Project and the Mars Exploration Rover Project are managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology, also in Pasadena. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, built the orbiter. For more about the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, see www.nasa.gov/mro . 

Source: NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory [March 07, 2012]

ADVERTISEMENT

spot_img

Related articles

Viking warriors, treasures buried beneath Dublin

A massive research project, 15 years in the making, has revealed that beneath Dublin’s modern streets lies a...

Neolithic town unearthed in northern Greece

Very important prehistoric finds compose the picture of an unknown by a broader audience Neolithic settlement, which has...

Excavations reveal convicts’ mass grave on Spike Island

Archaeologists have identified for the first time the full extent of a convicts’ mass grave on what was...

Undiscovered burial mounds may abound in Iowa national park

Officials at Effigy Mounds National Monument in Iowa say new American Indian burial mounds could still be discovered...

Genetic study confirms: First dogs came from East Asia

Researchers at Sweden's KTH Royal Institute of Technology say they have found further proof that the wolf ancestors...

Dust in the wind drove iron fertilization during Ice Age

Researchers from Princeton University and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich have confirmed that during the...

Researcher tests powerful new tool to advance ecology, conservation

A new University of Florida study shows ecologists may have been missing crucial information from animal bones for...

Longer life for humans linked to further loss of endangered species

As human life expectancy increases, so does the percentage of invasive and endangered birds and mammals, according to...