On August 30, 2023, NASA’s Perseverance rover captured the fascinating sight of a Martian dust devil. The video, taken by the rover’s Navcam, provides a close-up glimpse of the whirlwind as it moved across Mars’ surface.
Enhanced to display the maximum detail, the video showcases the sped-up version of the event, 20 times its original speed. The clip comprises 21 still frames, each taken four seconds apart. Of course, the marvel doesn’t end with the video. As always, it wasn’t just meant for us to admire. The data extracted from it has given scientists a deep dive into the characteristics of this dust devil.
The team has found the dust devil to be approximately 2.5 miles (4 km) from the rover, at a region named “Thorofare Ridge”. It traveled from east to west, reaching speeds of about 12 mph (19 kph). Its width measured roughly 200 feet (60 meters). The video reveals only the bottom 387 feet (118 meters) of the dust devil. However, scientists ingeniously used its shadow to calculate its total height. They estimated that it was a staggering 1.2 miles (2 kilometers)!
Perseverance’s main goal on Mars is astrobiology, specifically the hunt for potential signs of ancient microbial life. Alongside this, the rover’s mission involves mapping the Martian geology and previous climate conditions, making way for future human exploration. A first-of-its-kind, Perseverance will gather and store Martian rock and regolith (a mixture of dust and broken rock).
NASA’s future mission, in collaboration with the European Space Agency (ESA), aims to retrieve these samples and bring them to Earth for in-depth analysis. And overall, Perseverance rover’s Mars exploration is an integral part of NASA’s broader Moon to Mars strategy. It will, hopefully, lead humans to Mars someday.