Spring Winds on Mars Create Stunning Martian Dust Devil
Doesn't it seem that everything is bigger on Mars?
Olympus Mons ...
Well, this week's image shows adds to that reputation.
In 2012, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter was passing over the northern latitudes of Mars above Amazonis Planitia when the HiRise camera captured something totally unexpected.
It was early spring in the north, a time when warming winds can create unexpected results.
Luckily, the MRO just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
Tracking across the flat, dust-covered plains of Amazonis Planitia was a huge martian dust devil -- a swirling mass of dust common in hot, dry areas on both Earth and Mars that looks like a mini-tornado.
But this martian dust devil was huge!
With a core of about 140 meters in diameter, this whirling mass of dust created a plume nearly 20 kilometers into the thin martian atmosphere.
That's nearly 12 and a half miles! Over 65,000 feet!
Think of it this way - that plume was over twice as high as most airliners fly here on Earth!
Dust devils are common to this area of Mars, and are formed as the surface is heated by the Sun, generating warm, rising air currents that begin to rotate. The speed of rotation varies, but, according to NASA, martian dust devils in other HiRise images have been clocked at over 110 kilometers per hour (about 68 miles per hour).
On Earth, dust devils don't caome close to matching the size of this monster. Most dust devils on Earth will reach only a few hundred feet in height -- maybe even a couple of thousand feet --- but no where close to 65,000 feet.
It's just another example of why everything is bigger on Mars...
And another reason why Mars continues to fascinate.