Curiosity Observes Whirlwinds Carrying Martian DustDust devils dance in the distance in this sequence of images taken by the Navigation Camera on NASA's Curiosity Mars rover on Feb. 12, 2017, during the summer afternoon of the rover's 1,607th Martian day, or sol.
Within a broader context view, the rectangular area outlined in black was imaged multiple times over a span of several minutes to check for dust devils. Images from the period with most activity are shown in the inset area. The images are in pairs that were taken about 12 seconds apart, with an interval of about 90 seconds between pairs. Timing is accelerated and not fully proportional in this animation.
One dust devil appears at the right edge of the inset -- toward the south from the rover -- in the first few frames. Another appears on the left -- toward south-southeast -- later in the sequence. Contrast has been modified to make frame-to-frame changes easier to see. A black frame is added between repeats of the sequence.
Portions of Curiosity are visible in the foreground. The cylindrical UHF (ultra-high frequency) antenna on the left is used for sending data to Mars orbiters, which relay the data to Earth. The angled planes to the right of this antenna are fins of the rover's radioisotope thermoelectric generator, which provides the vehicle's power. The post with a knob on top at right is a low-gain, non-directional antenna that can be used for receiving transmissions from Earth, as backup to the main high-gain antenna (not shown here) used for that purpose.
On Mars as on Earth, dust devils are whirlwinds that result from sunshine warming the ground, prompting convective rising of air that has gained heat from the ground. Observations of Martian dust devils provide information about wind directions and interaction between the surface and the atmosphere.
Curiosity's Sol 1607 location, reached by a drive that was completed two sols earlier, is mapped at http://mars.nasa.gov/multimedia/images/2017/curiosity-rovers-location-for-sol-1605.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/TAMU