A Martian dust devil tails the Opportunity rover in an incredible new photo.
The Mars Opportunity rover has just captured an incredible image of a dust devil hot on its tail.
The Opportunity rover has been exploring the Martian landscape since 2004, and NASA scientists got quite a shock to see a clear picture of a dust devil that it snapped on March 31, according to a Gizmodo report.
Dust devils happen with some frequency on Mars. They occur from columns of rotating hot air that kick up sand and dust, creating a vortex — just like how they form here one Earth.
Opportunity snapped the picture as it was going up the Knudsen Ridge. The view is behind the rover, as you can see from the tracks in the foreground of the pic.
Back in 2012, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter caught sight of a 12-mile-high dust devil.
And it’s not the first time Opportunity has seen one. It also captured a picture of a large dust devil in 2010.
NASA said in a statement from that sighting that it was the first time the rover had spotted a dust devil, noting that its twin rover, Spirit, had seen dozens of them halfway around the Red Planet.
“Spirit’s area, inside Gusev Crater, is rougher in ground texture, and dustier, than the area where Opportunity is working in the Meridiani Planum region,” the statement reads. “Those factors at Gusev allow vortices of wind to form more readily and raise more dust, compared to conditions at Meridiani, Lemmon explained. Orbiters have photographed tracks left by dust devils near Opportunity, but the tracks are scarcer there than near Spirit. Swirling winds at Meridiani may be more common than visible signs of them, if the winds occur where there is no loose dust to disturb.”
The Spirit rover became stuck in 2009, and sent its last communication back to Earth on March 22, 2010. Opportunity has managed to stay operational for 12 years now despite its mission originally being only three months long. It was joined by the Curiosity rover in 2012.