NASA spots sinuous dust devil dancing over Mars dunes

A stunning view from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows how Mars can whip it good.

Mars is quite a busy planet when it comes to wind and dust intermingling. NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft captured a lucky shot of a spectacular dust devil winding across a stretch of dunes.

The MRO HiRise camera team at the University of Arizona shared the whirling beauty as a picture of the day on Thursday.

The image was a serendipitous shot. “While the main objective of this observation of dunes within a crater to the north of Antoniadi Crater is to track changes over time, HiRise often catches nature in action,” the HiRise team said. “In this case, it’s a well-defined dust devil traversing the dunes, leaving exposed, darker subsurface material in its wake.”

The HiRise specialists also shared a wider view of where the dust devil was making tracks. It shows how subtle they can appear when seen from Mars orbit.
This perspective shot shows the wider area where the MRO saw a dust devil. The whirlwind is marked by a yellow circle.
The MRO sends back heaps of images, so the HiRise team runs an image-of-the-day feature to share some of the highlights. The dust devil was discovered tucked into a wider landscape view from January 2020.

NASA might like for one of those dust devils to show up in the vicinity of the Mars InSight lander, the space agency’s stationary explorer on the planet. InSight was recently put into a limited-operations mode due to dust covering its solar panels. A good whirlwind might help clean some dust off the arrays.


The newest resident of Mars, NASA’s Perseverance rover, may have a chance to catch some dust devils of its own. Both the defunct Opportunity rover and the still-functioning Curiosity rover have taken their own snapshots of the dramatic whirlwinds.

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