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NASA reveals rare photo of active dust devil on Mars

Mars beckons
Mars beckons 09:49

"Dust devils" aren't exactly uncommon on Mars — it's a dusty, windy planet. But capturing one in motion is rare, making NASA's latest photo from the red planet particularly intriguing. 

The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera, the most powerful camera ever sent to another planet, captured the epic photo back in October, its team at the University of Arizona said Monday. It's been capturing photos onboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter since 2006, sending out-of-this-world photos back to astronomers on Earth ever since. 

The HiRISE team explains that dust devils are fleeting whirlwinds of air, formed under low pressure and made visible by the dust they swirl around. They exist both on Earth and Mars and can reach speeds of up to 100 mph.

The HiRISE camera onboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter captured this epic photo of a dust devil on the red planet in October 2019.  NASA / JPL / UArizona

"There are several HiRISE images of tracks left behind by dust devils, but it is rare to catch one in motion," HiRISE team member Sharon Wilson said in a press release. 

This particularly visible Martian dust devil has a core of roughly 164 feet across, and it formed on the planet's smooth volcanic plains known as the Amazonis Planitia.

"The dark streak on the ground behind the dust devil is its shadow," Wilson said. "The length of the shadow suggests the plume of rotating dust rises about 650 meters (2,100 feet) into the atmosphere!" 

Dust devils are just one of the many phenomena humans may have to contend with on a future mission to Mars. And they can be pretty terrifying — NASA captured a photo of a 12-mile-high dust devil back in 2012. 

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