A Martian dust devil making a streak, climbing a wall
Posted: August 23, 2002

Credit: NASA/JPL/Malin Space Science Systems
One of the key elements of the Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC) Extended Mission is to look for and monitor changes taking place on the planet over the course of a second -- and, eventually, a third -- Martian year. MGS is now well into its second Mars year, which will draw to a close in December 2002. Among the changes the MOC has observed are streaks believed to be caused by the passage of dust devils. Thousands of MOC images show these streaks, dozens show that they change over time, but far fewer images have actually captured a dust devil in the act of creating a streak. This image is a dust devil that, on May 21, 2002, was seen climbing the wall of a crater at 4.1 deg S, 9.5 deg W. This crater (above right) is in western Terra Meridiani. The dust devil was moving toward the northeast (upper right), leaving behind a dark trail where a thin coating of surficial dust was removed or disrupted as the dust devil advanced. Dust devils most commonly form after noon on days when the martian air is still (that is, when there isn't even a faint breeze). On such days, the ground is better able to heat up the air immediately above the surface. As the warmed near-surface air begins to rise, it also begins to spin, creating a vortex. The spinning column then moves across the surface and picks up loose dust (if any is present). The dust makes the vortex visible and gives it a tornado-like appearance. The dust devil in this image has a very short, dark shadow cast to the right of the bright column; this shadow is short because the sun was nearly overhead.

Malin Space Science Systems and the California Institute of Technology built the MOC using spare hardware from the Mars Observer mission. MSSS operates the camera from its facilities in San Diego, CA. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Mars Surveyor Operations Project operates the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft with its industrial partner, Lockheed Martin Astronautics, from facilities in Pasadena, CA and Denver, CO.

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