Dust Devils and Strong Winds Produce the Constant Haze on Mars

Dust is an everyday feature on Mars and wreaks havoc on various pieces of equipment humans decide to send to it, such as Insight’s continual loss of power or the losses of Opportunity and Spirit. But we’ve never really understood what causes the dust to get up into the air in the first place. That equipment that is so affected by it usually isn’t set up to monitor it, or if it is, it has been sent to a place where there isn’t much dust, to begin with. Now, that has changed with new readings from Perseverance in Jerezo crater, and the answer shouldn’t be much of a surprise – dust devils seem to cause some of the dust in the atmosphere on Mars. But strong winds contribute a significant amount too.

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Perseverance is Seeing A LOT of Dust Devils

NASA's Perseverance Mars rover used one of its navigation cameras to capture these dust devils swirling across Jezero Crater on July 20, 2021, the 148th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. cREDIT: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI

While the Mars InSight lander is still waiting for a passing dust devil to clean off its solar panels, it appears the Perseverance rover sees dust devils several times a day.

A new paper detailing the first 216 days of Perseverance’s mission in Jezero Crater reports how the newest rover on Mars appears to be located in a “dust storm track” that runs north to south across the planet. Jezero Crater has particularly high levels of dust and wind activity.

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Perseverance has Already Detected Over 300 Dust Devils and Vortices on Mars

Dust devils are generally used as a trope in media when the writers want to know that an area is deserted. They signify the desolation and isolation that those places represent. Almost none of the settings of those stories are close to the isolation of Perseverance, the Mars rover that landed on the planet earlier this year.  Fittingly, the number of dust devils Perseverance has detected is also extremely high – over 300 in its first three months on the planet. 

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NASA’s InSight Will Have Reduced Capability Until a Dust Devil Cleans off its Solar Panels

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

All eyes are on Mars this week, and, if we’re being honest, NASA’s InSight lander isn’t the star of the show right now. At the time of writing, we’re anxiously waiting to find out whether or not the Perseverance rover survives its fiery arrival at Mars. But Entry, Descent, and Landing (EDL) is just the first hazard that awaits robotic missions to the red planet. Mars exploration is a marathon, not a sprint, and while Perseverance is just getting started, InSight, which has been on the red planet for two years now, is approaching a tough leg of the race.

InSight’s nemesis: Martian dust. The same cruel villain that killed the Opportunity rover back in 2018.

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There Might Be Dust Devils On Titan Too

Artist's concept of a dust storm on Titan. Credits: IPGP/Labex UnivEarthS/University Paris Diderot – C. Epitalon & S. Rodriguez

Saturn’s moon Titan is alone among the Solar System’s moons. It’s the only one with any atmosphere to speak of. Other moons may have thin, largely insignificant atmospheres, like Ganymede with its potential oxygen atmosphere. But Titan’s atmosphere is dense, and rich in nitrogen.

A new study shows that Titan’s atmosphere and winds might produce dust devils similar to Earth’s.

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InSight has been Sensing Dust Devils Sweep Past its Landing Site

The InSight lander has been on the surface of Mars for about a year, and a half dozen papers were just published outlining some results from the mission. Though InSight’s primary mission is to gather evidence on the interior of Mars—InSight stands for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy, and Heat Transport—the lander also keeps track of Martian Meteorology. A new paper reports that InSight has found gravity waves, swirling dust devils, and a steady background rumble of infrasound.

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Dust Devils Have Left Dark Streaks All Over This Martian Crater

HiPOD from February 16th 2020 showing dust devil trails in a Martian crater. Image Credit: NASA/JPL/UArizona

There may be no life on Mars, but there’s still a lot going on there. The Martian surface is home to different geological process, which overlap and even compete with each other to shape the planet. Orbiters with powerful cameras give us an excellent view of Mars’ changing surface.

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This is a Dust Devil… on Mars

Dust Devil on Mars. Image: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona
Dust Devil on Mars. Image: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

We live in a time when our spacecraft orbiting Mars at an altitude of about 300 km. can snap photos of a dust devil and transmit them back to us so we can share them on the internet. Not only that, but we have rovers wandering around on the surface taking pictures of the dust storms, too. Big deal, you say? So what, you say?

You’re dead inside.

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