In a rare moment, NASA was able to take a stunning photo of an active dust devil on Mars. Based on its appearance, scientists believe it was 650 metres tall. NASA was able to capture the dust devil in motion using the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's (MRO) High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera. According to the agency, the orbiting spacecraft spotted the dust devil in the volcanic plains of the Red Planet's Amazonis Planitia.
Dust Devils On Mars
Given Mars' dusty environment, dust devils commonly form on the Red Planet. Tracks left behind by whirlwinds on the Martian surface can be commonly seen in images taken by HiRISE. However, capturing an image of a dust devil in motion is pretty rare.
Last week, the HiRISE team from the University of Arizona shared the latest image of a dust devil on Mars. According to the scientists, dust devils naturally form on Earth and Mars when rotating columns of dust form around pockets of low-pressure air.
New Image Of A Dust Devil
Based on the photo captured by the MRO, the scientists noted that the dust devil could be about 50 metres wide. After measuring the shadow that it created, they believe it reached a height of 650 metres tall.
"The dust devil is bright, and its core is roughly 50 metres across," Sharon Wilson of the University of Arizona explained in a blog post. "The dark streak on the ground behind the dust devil is its shadow. The length of the shadow suggests the plume of rotating dust rises about 650 metres into the atmosphere!"
Previous Sightings Of Dust Devils
The dust devil photographed in Amazonis Planitia isn't the first one spotted in the region. Back in 2012, the MRO was able to photograph a towering dust devil moving across the Martian surface. It followed a zigzagging path, leaving behind a serpentine shadow on the ground. Based on the length created by the dust devil's shadow, scientists believe the giant whirlwind was over 800 metres tall. It created a dust plume that was almost 30 metres wide.