What looks to be a swirling dust devil is caught on camera in this raw image from the Mars rover Spirit.
Dust devils on Mars are common, caused by heated air near the surface rising rapidly upwards in spinning columns, picking up dust and sand and propelled by the Martian winds. Although relatively gusty by speed measurements, even high winds on Mars would barely be felt by humans because of the low air density. Still, these dust devils carve their twisting tracks across the dunes and have even come in handy as very competent cleaners of the rovers’ solar panels, on occasion.
This dramatic animation below, from 2006, shows several dust devils zipping past Spirit. (Click to play).
Images like these remind us that, although geologically quiet, the air on Mars is very much alive with activity!
Image credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute