7 Fun Facts About Martian Dust Devils

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Wikimedia Commons

In addition to sounding like an awesome name for a rock band, Martian dust devils have been intriguing astronomers and climatologists for decades. Here’s some amazing trivia about these red planet whirlwinds.  

1. They Can Be Over Ten Times As High As Their Earth-Based Counterparts

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On our own planet, dust devils rarely exceed a mile in height. Contrast this to a Martian specimen which was filmed last summer after having reached the impressive stature of 12 miles tall.

2. And Fifty Times As Wide!

For those unfamiliar with dust devils, check out this footage taken in Ontario, Canada back in 2007. This one’s actually on the smaller side: on Earth large individuals can sport a 20-meter diameter, whereas Martian individuals often exceed a full kilometer.

3. The First Martian Dust Devil Photographs Were Taken in the 1970s

Launched in 1975 and 1976, NASA’s Viking orbiters captured an array of breathtaking photographs of the mysterious planet, some of which showcase its awe-inspiring dust devils.

4. They Create Strange, Worm-Like Tracks on Mars' Surface

Here’s a gorgeous photo snapped over Mars’ equator in 2008.

5. Scientists Have Been Honing Their Ability to Predict These Whirlwinds

Worried that, should man ever land on Mars, future astronauts’ helmets could be damaged by these storms, NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey have recently been improving their capacity to anticipate dust devils.

6. One of Them Inadvertently Cleaned A NASA Rover

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Launched in 2004, the Spirit rover’s solar panels had been heavily coated with dust—depleting its power levels—when a passing devil removed the obstructive particles, giving it a badly-needed energy boost.

7. Despite Their Size, Martian Dust Devils Aren’t Very Powerful Compared to Those on Our Planet

Earth’s dust devils have their Martian rivals beaten in at least one category: ours can be far more destructive. As this page explains, Mars’ whirlwinds can reach speeds of 55 mph, but due to the relative thinness of its atmosphere, they exert much less force than identical storms would on the blue planet.

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January 28, 2014 - 2:00pm
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