Tech by VICE

This Is Actual Video of Martian Dust Devils, and It’s Surprisingly Chill

It's hella windy there right now.

by Samantha Cole
Mar 2 2017, 9:05pm


It's windy on the East Coast today. It might be windy in other places, too, but we've got 60 mph gusts in Brooklyn and I was hit by a fast-moving empty trash can this morning on my walk to the office, so it's a somewhat noteworthy wind.

As it happens, it's also been pretty breezy on everyone's favorite backup-planet/hellscape. It's summer on this part of Mars, the windiest season: The perfect time for NASA's Curiosity rover to catch footage of dust devils spinning across Gale Crater. As sunlight warms the Martian surface, it kicks up a convective rising of air, and a devil is born.

A dust devil on Mars

A dust devil on Mars. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/TAMU

Watching these whirlwinds can teach scientists more about how the Red Planet's atmosphere and surface interact.

Curiosity is currently perched on the lower slope of Mount Sharp, observing how far wind moves grains of sand in a single day's time, according to NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab. The rover's Mars Descent Imager camera also caught images of wind erasing its wheel-track in the fine soil. It looks like an orbital image of dunes at first glance, but notice the wheel in the upper-left corner:

Wind moving Martian sand dunes.

Wind moving Martian sand dunes. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The Martian atmosphere is about a hundred times thinner than Earth's, so wind doesn't typically exert much force on other object. Martian winds top out around 60 mph, and atmosphere is so thin that it couldn't get a kite in the air. When we're living there, we probably won't have to worry about rogue trash cans blowing around.

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