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Press Release Images: Spirit
14-Jul-2009
Mars Dust Devil Has Colorful Effect in Image Series
Spotlight
Dust Devil West of Spirit, Sol 1913 (Stereo)
Dust Devil West of Spirit, Sol 1913 (Stereo)

The navigation camera on NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit caught this stereo view of a dust devil during the 1,913th Martian day, or sol, of the rover's mission on Mars (May 21, 2009).

The view is to the west from Spirit's position at the "Troy" location where Spirit had become embedded a few weeks earlier. The dust-lofting whirlwind is out on the plain west of the Columbia Hills range that Spirit has been exploring since five months after landing on the plain in January 2004. In the foreground is the northern end of a ridge called "Tsiolkovsky," about 25 meters (about 80 feet) from Troy.

This view combines images from the left-eye and right-eye sides of the navigation camera. It appears three-dimensional when seen through red-blue glasses with the red lens on the left.

Dust devils occur on both Mars and on Earth when solar energy heats the surface, resulting in a layer of warm air just above the surface. Since the warmed air is less dense than the cooler atmosphere above it, it rises, making a swirling thermal plume that picks up the fine dust from the surface and carries it up into the atmosphere. This plume of dust moves with the local wind.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
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Colorful Effect from Sequential Shots of Moving Dust Devils
Colorful Effect from Sequential Shots of Moving Dust Devils

While the panoramic camera (Pancam) on NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit was taking exposures with different color filters during the 1,919th Martian day of the rover's mission (May 27, 2009), dust devils moved across the field of view. Because several seconds intervened between shots with different filters, the location of the dust devils changed between the exposures.

The three grayscale images stacked from the bottom of this four-part view are the separate exposures through filters centered on wavelengths of 750 nanometers, 530 nanometers and 430 nanometers. Contrast has been stretched to emphasize the dust devils on the horizon.

At the top is a composite image combining those exposures to yield a color scene of the Martian ground. The time intervals between the exposures result in the darker dust devil appearing blue at its first location, violet at its second location and yellow at its third location. A second dust devil was consolidating during the first two exposures and appears orange at its location when the third exposure was taken. In the foreground is the northern end of a ridge called "Tsiolkovsky," about 25 meters (about 80 feet) from Troy.

Dust devils occur on both Mars and on Earth when solar energy heats the surface, resulting in a layer of warm air just above the surface. Since the warmed air is less dense than the cooler atmosphere above it, it rises, making a swirling thermal plume that picks up the fine dust from the surface and carries it up into the atmosphere. This plume of dust moves with the local wind.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell University/Texas A&M
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Huge Dust Devil Northwest of Spirit, Sol 1919
Huge Dust Devil Northwest of Spirit, Sol 1919

Researchers used the navigation camera on NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit to look for dust devils near the rover during the mission's 1,919th Martian day, or sol (May 27, 2009). This shot from that day's sequence, presented here with three different levels of processing, caught a large dust devil about 1.5 kilometers (1 mile) northwest of Spirit.

The top frame is the original image, the middle frame has been processed enhance the visibility of the dust devil, and the bottom frame is a merged version. The image was taken in the early afternoon from Spirit's position at the "Troy" sand trap beside "Home Plate," looking northwest across the floor of Gusev crater. The large dust devil shows a typical central core (brightest area) surrounded by a more diffuse sand and dust "skirt" about 415 meters (about 1,350 feet) across. The dust devil is moving toward the northeast (toward the right in this image) at about 0.75 meter per second (1.7 miles per hour). This dust devil is some 20 times larger than the average dust devil on Earth. A smaller dust devil is seen on the right leading the larger dust devil.

More than 650 dust devils have been recorded by Spirit since its operation began in 2004. The mission is currently in its third "season" for dust devils on Mars, which typically begin in Martian spring.

Dust devils occur on both Mars and on Earth when solar energy heats the surface, resulting in a layer of warm air just above the surface. Since the warmed air is less dense than the cooler atmosphere above it, it rises, making a swirling thermal plume that picks up the fine dust from the surface and carries it up into the atmosphere. This plume of dust moves with the local wind.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell University/ASU
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