HiRISE Clocks Hurricane Speed Winds In Martian Dust Devils

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“It’s early morning and the Sun comes out…” And from no where a huge Martian dust devil shakes its way across the red sands, flinging debris up into the atmosphere. While planetary scientists have been able to determine how fast these whirling, swirling storms travel across the arid landscape, they’ve never quite been able to tell just how fast the winds within them move. Until now…

Thanks to the work of David Choi, a postdoc at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, we’re now able to reasonably record wind speeds through the use of high resolution images taken from HiRISE onboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. When lucky, the camera captures the storms as a “work in progress” – detailing small features. By pinpointing these signature marks, Choi was able to determine the wind speeds by knowing the timing between frames.

According to the news release, the winds are traveling at about 45 meters each second — what we Earthlings would consider “hurricane-force,” or above 33 meters per second. However, at other times the winds would slow to between 20 and 30 meters per second. These new findings were then compiled and Choi presented his results October 3 in Nantes, France, at the joint meeting of the European Planetary Science Congress and the American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Sciences.

“As a whole, they’re not like a hurricane, but there are pockets or gusts that exceed hurricane-force,” Choi says.

These storms generally appeared around 3:00 Mars Local Time and measured about 30 meters to 250 meters in diameter, and stretched upwards between 150 meters and 700 meters. Wow… “Here I am… Rock you like a hurricane!”

Original Story Source: Science News Release.