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Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Mars dust devil whirls for Opportunity rover's camera


Written by Amanda Kooser

The weather on Mars is clear with a chance of dust devils as the Opportunity rover spies a tower of sand rising up in the distance.

Behold one of the greatest sentences ever written for a NASA website: "When humans visits Mars, they'll have to watch out for towering electrified dust devils." It reads like science fiction, but it's from a 2005 NASA science report on how warm temperatures can feed into startling dust devils on the surface of the Red Planet.

The Opportunity rover just got a good look at one these whirling creations.

The image comes from the rover's navigation camera. NASA tweeted the image on Sunday. The scenic shot looks back at Opportunity's tire tracks as a tower of dust rises up in the distance.

Dust devils are surprisingly common on Mars. NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter even caught a wonderful top-down image of a devil in action in 2012. That particular dust tower reached 12 miles (20 kilometers) high.

Opportunity is currently hanging out at the Endeavour Crater in an area known as Marathon Valley along the crater's western rim. The rover is investigating the possible presence of clay minerals, which form where water is located.

The Opportunity rover landed on Mars in 2004 and is still going strong. Last week, it attempted the steepest slope any rover has ever tried to conquer on the planet. The rover's wheels slipped on the uphill attempt and NASA scientists ended up rerouting it toward a less difficult path.

The dust devil image puts the rugged and sandy landscape on Mars into perspective for us space fans back on Earth. The rover's tracks barely dent the planet's surface. At least the plucky rover is far away from the scouring sands of the dust devil.

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