Astronomy:Dust devil tracks

From HandWiki
Martian dust devil – in Amazonis Planitia (10 April 2001) (also) (video (02:19)).

Many areas on Mars experience the passage of giant dust devils. These dust devils leave tracks on the surface of Mars because they disturb a thin coating of fine bright dust that covers most of the Martian surface. When a dust devil goes by it blows away the coating and exposes the underlying dark surface. Within a few weeks, the dark track assumes its former bright colour, either by being re-covered through wind action or due to surface oxidation through exposure to sunlight and the Martian atmosphere.

Formation and dynamics

Dust devils occur when the sun warms up the air near a flat, dry surface. The warm air then rises quickly through the cooler air and begins spinning while moving ahead. This spinning, moving cell may pick up dust and sand and leave behind a clean surface.[1]


Dust devils on Mars have been photographed both from the ground and high overhead from orbit. They have even blown dust off the solar panels of two Rovers on Mars, thereby greatly extending their useful lifetime.[2] The pattern of the tracks has been shown to change every few months.[3] A study that combined data from the High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) and the Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC) found that some large dust devils on Mars have a diameter of 700 metres (2,300 ft) and last at least 26 minutes.[4] Measurements from the Curiosity Rover confirms that the pressure drops when a dust devil passes nearby.[5]

Changes through time

Mars without a dust storm in June 2001 (on left) and with a global dust storm in July 2001 (on right), as seen by Mars Global Surveyor

A dust devil that was previously imaged in 2009, there was information found about two years later showing the tracks visible from the previous imaging are completely different from the old ones meaning there had been a dust storm to erase the old tracks.[6]

Bright dust devil tracks

Generally, Martian dust devils leave a dark track, however light tracks have also been observed. Studies have been done on Earth to understand this phenomenon. Based on a study done in the Turpan desert in China, it is believed that the light Martian tracks are not truly light, and only appear to be so due to the unusually dark surrounding surface. In such cases, the surrounding surface is believed to appear unusually dark due to the clumping of surface particles, which in turn is due to static charge buildup and attraction.[7]


Dust devil on Mars - viewed by the Curiosity rover - (August 9, 2020)
Dust devil on Mars (MGS).
Dust devils cause twisting dark trails on the Martian surface.
Serpent dust devil of Mars (MRO).
Dust devils in Valles Marineris (MRO).


  1. HiRISE | (PSP_00481_2410). Retrieved on 7 August 2011.
  2. "Press Release Images: Spirit", Mars Exploration Rover Mission. Retrieved on 7 August 2011.
  3. "HiRISE | Dust Devils Dancing on Dunes (PSP_005383_1255)". 
  4. Reiss, D. et al. 2011. Multitemporal observations of identical active dust devils on Mars with High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) and Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC). Icarus. 215:358–369.
  5. Kahanpaa, H., et al. 2018. MARTIAN DUST DEVILS OBSERVED SIMULTANEOUSLY BY IMAGING AND BY METEOROLOGICAL MEASUREMENTS. 49th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference 2018 (LPI Contrib. No. 2083). 1442.pdf
  6. "Dust Devil Tracks". 15 May 2013. 
  7. Icarus, Dennis (24 September 2010). "Mars Dust-Devil Mystery Solved on Earth.". Wired (Wired). Retrieved 30 November 2016. 

See also