General, Research, Technology

How do dusty whirlwinds help rovers perform better?

Scientists think Mars is the best planet for a reasonfor the resettlement of humanity. The fact is that there are many similarities between the Earth and the Red Planet. And we are talking not only about almost the same length of the day - the difference between Earth and Martian days is only about 40 minutes. Do not forget that on Earth and Mars there are almost the same environmental conditions and even similar atmospheric phenomena occur. Take, for example, the dusty whirlwinds that often occur in hot and desert regions of our planet and are columns of swirling air with dust, small stones and debris. The same phenomenon can be observed on Mars and recently the Curiosity spacecraft was able to capture another vortex on video. In general, everything that happens is like a small tornado that causes terrible destruction on Earth. But can "dusty devils" harm the rovers?

Dust whirlwind on Mars


  • 1 Dust Vortex on Mars
  • 2 How do dust vortices form?
  • 3 Exploration of Mars
  • 4 Are dust whirlwinds dangerous?

Dust whirlwind on Mars

A short video of a dusty whirlwind on Marsaerospace agency NASA has shared on its official website. The video was filmed with the Curiosity rover, which was sent to the Red Planet in 2011. The location of the shooting was the Gale crater, in which the device is currently located. On the morning of August 9, 2020, a dusty vortex about 5 meters wide and at least 50 meters high was formed on the slope of Mount Sharp, about one kilometer from the vehicle. As a rule, dusty whirlwinds disappear very quickly, but the Curiosity rover managed to observe the emerging "devil" for four minutes and fifteen seconds.

A dusty whirlwind captured by the Curiosity rover

How do dust vortices form?

On Earth, dusty vortices usually form in hotweather in the lowest layers of the atmosphere. For their formation, the collision of two air currents is necessary, which are able to pick up tiny particles of sand, dust and debris from them. Sometimes the spiral movement of air currents can even lift small stones and throw them at a distance of several meters. As you can see, dusty vortices are formed not only on Earth, but also on Mars. It can be assumed that they are formed for the same reasons, but scientists have no evidence of this yet. This means that there is a possibility that atmospheric phenomena occur on the Red Planet for completely different reasons.

If you have forgotten what the Curiosity apparatus looks like, here it is

Read also: Elon Musk gathered scientists for a secret conference to discuss the landing on Mars

Exploration of Mars

For the first time about the existence of dust vortices on Marsscientists learned in the second half of the XX century. As part of one of the Viking programs to study the Red Planet, the launched device was able to take a photograph of the vortex, but it was of very poor quality. The more detailed photograph was taken by the Mars Global Surveyor, which is considered one of NASA's best spacecraft for exploring Mars. Thanks to the data obtained, it was possible to find out that the Martian eddies can be 50 times wider and up to 10 times higher than on Earth. Especially large eddies can be dangerous for research vehicles, but in most cases, on the contrary, they render them a great service.

Dust whirlwind photographed by the Mars Global Surveyor

Are dusty whirlwinds dangerous?

The fact is that there are no people on Mars yet andno one can trace the cleanliness of the rovers. But over time, dirt settles on them and interferes with the work of some tools. For example, dirt can stick to the surface of the cameras and they won't be able to shoot anything until they are cleaned. In 2005, a very interesting situation arose - the Spirit rover found itself in the path of a dusty whirlwind and the wind with tiny particles of sand easily cleared its solar panels from dirt. And once a dusty whirlwind cleared the solar panels of the Opportunity apparatus, it received more energy and began to perform its work much faster than before.

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Another device was recently sent to Mars -Perseverance. Already next year, he will start looking for signs of life on the Red Planet. And at the moment he is on the way and you can follow his route through a special site, which I described in this material.