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NASA's Mars Curiosity Rover Captures Whirlwinds on the Red Planet's Surface

Mar 02, 2017 07:26 AM EST
Curiosity Self-Portrait at 'Mojave' on Mount Sharp
NASA's Mars Curiosity rover is looking into whirlwinds that helped shape the Martian surface.
(Photo : NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS via Getty Images)

One thing constant on Mars is the weather. Like Earth, there are changing climate conditions on the red planet that can be observed by landers and rovers on the Martian surface.

Recently, NASA's Mars Curiosity Rover has been observing whirlwinds on the planet that creates landscapes on the surface. Winds played a big role in shaping the surface of the red planet.

To perform the study, the rover observed Mount Sharp, a layered mountain near the Gale crater. The active sand dunes say a lot about the wind conditions on Mars. This is where the Curiosity rover films whirlwind-carrying dusts on Mars that are capable of moving sand grains in far distances in a relatively short period of time.

Before Curiosity, NASA's Reconnaissance Orbiter had also looked into the patterns of wind erosion that helped explain the formation of layered mountains in the middle of craters.

"The orbiter perspective gives us the bigger picture -- on all sides of Mount Sharp and the regional context for Gale Crater. We combine that with the local detail and ground-truth we get from the rover," Mackenzie Day of the University of Texas said.

Scientists found out that wind patterns differ. Interestingly, a shift in trend was noticed. According to NASA, the winds shaped the mountains but today the mountains largely affect the winds.

Due to the thinner atmosphere on Mars, Martian winds use less force compared to Earth. The constant condition over long periods of time also helped shape the surface of Mars. The striking image of a whirlwind resembles strong winds on Earth.

"This sequence of images shows a dust-carrying whirlwind, called a dust devil, on lower Mount Sharp inside Gale Crater, as viewed by NASA's Curiosity Mars Rover during the summer afternoon of the rover's 1,613rd Martian day," a NASA official said.

Aside from looking into sand dunes and whirlwinds, NASA scientists and rover engineers are studying the results of testing of the rover's drill mechanism.

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