Opportunity rover snaps photo of Martian dust devil

Credit: NASA / JPL / Cornell / Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com) / Marco Di Lorenzo
Credit: NASA / JPL / Cornell / Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com) / Marco Di Lorenzo

NASA’s Opportunity Mars rover has captured a dust devil spinning across the barren floor of Endeavour Crater, an impact basin the robot has explored since 2011 in the mission’s long-lived second act.

The color mosaic presented here, created by Dr. Ken Kremer and Marco Di Lorenzo from publicly-available NASA imagery, show the dust devil swirling in the distance with the rover’s tracks in the foreground.

The dust devil passed through the field-of-view of the rover’s navigation camera Friday — April Fools’ Day — but the surprise was real.

Opportunity is currently perched on the edge of a steep hill known as “Knudsen Ridge” on the western rim of Endeavour Crater, which spans 14 miles (22 kilometers) across, making it the largest impact site ever visited on Mars.

The rover attempted to scale Knudsen Ridge last month to reach a rock target for analysis by its on-board instruments, but the six-wheeled vehicle fell short, spinning its wheels on a 32-degree incline. Ground controllers re-routed Opportunity to a nearby rock target.

Opportunity Route Map Sol 4332_Ken Kremer

The region where Opportunity currently resides contains clay minerals that likely formed when Mars was warmer, wetter, and potentially habitable.

The rover arrived at Mars in January 2004, parachuting to an airbag-cushioned landing in Meridiani Planum, a relatively flat, featureless plain pockmarked with scattered impact craters.

Opportunity has driven nearly 27 miles since landing, vastly outliving its 90-day warranty.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.