Are Dust Devils Whirling Around the Curiosity Rover?

In this latest update from the MSL team, Ashwin Vasavada, the Deputy Project Scientist, explains how Curiosity has been monitoring the winds and radiation levels in Gale Crater. Curiosity has also been looking for dust devils — the small dust storms that have been seen by other spacecraft as they whirl around Mars. While Curiosity hasn’t been able to ‘see’ them by taking images directly, other instruments indicate dust devils may be whirling right over the rover.

The team said that during the first 12 weeks after Curiosity landed in Gale Crater, they have analyzed data from more than 20 atmospheric events with at least one characteristic of a whirlwind recorded by the Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) instrument. Those characteristics can include a brief dip in air pressure, a change in wind direction, a change in wind speed, a rise in air temperature or a dip in ultraviolet light reaching the rover. Two of the events included all five characteristics.

Vasavada said that the winds blow from all directions where the rover sits, in between the central mound of Gale Crater (Aeolis Mons/Mt. Sharp) and the rim of the crater, which makes it an area ripe for dust devils.

Vasavada also points out that the Spirit and Opportunity rovers were able to capture dust devils in their own vicinity, which was an exciting accomplishment. Curiosity’s MastCams can take 720p (1280×720 pixels) high-definition video at a rate of about 10 frames per second, so if the team was ever lucky enough to capture a dust devil in action, it would be our best-ever view of a dust devil on the surface of Mars, and would be tremendously exciting.

Here’s a huge dust devil captured from orbit by the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter:

A Martian dust devil roughly 12 miles (20 kilometers) high was captured winding its way along the Amazonis Planitia region of Northern Mars on March 14, 2012 by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Despite its height, the plume is little more than three-quarters of a football field wide (70 yards, or 70 meters). Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UA

4 Replies to “Are Dust Devils Whirling Around the Curiosity Rover?”

  1. Am wondering if any of the particles seen on Curiosity’s decks as deposited by the landing rockets, have been swept clear or added to by the wind(s) she’s seen? Mars will reach perihelion in January 2013… The Mars dust storm season begins just after perihelion at around Ls = 260°. It is entirely possible that Curiosity will experience a global dust storm some time after perihelion… THAT will be very interesting!

  2. I like how each time there are different people giving these Mars Curiosity updates. Gives me a sense of the different people who work on the project.

  3. I’m very confident that being in a depression as mentioned would be the reason for lack of wind events. Depending on how high up the moutain you go things could change. But, what will suprise us in this new environment? Keep monitoring!

  4. In such a thin atmosphere, I’d guess the size of the dust particles must be super small? Would a human standing on the surface of mars (in a suit) even feel slightly pushed by the strongest wind on the planet?

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