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March 22, 2012

NASA's Findings on Martian Dust Devils

By Daniel Brecht, Contributing Writer

Other than checking for water, dust activity is also being monitored by NASA from Earth. Their new Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), which was sent to outer space on August 12, 2005 to check for evidence of water on Mars, has been monitoring the climate of Mars and its weather patterns.

It is no longer a mystery for NASA’s researchers what is happening on that planet; there are signs of clouds and winds forming dust storms. While NASA continues to observe Mars from orbit, many new images are being captured by the MRO. In fact, most recently (precisely on Feb. 16, 2012), NASA captured Martian dust: a twister in action that appeared casting a serpentine shadow over its surface. On that day, NASA’s High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera showed an afternoon whirlwind that took place in the Amazonis Planitia region of northern Mars.

Through detailed observations of the dust images taken from the MRO on Mars back in February, the team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory was able to recreate the dust devil twister with its own high-tech modeling software to give people a better glimpse at what took place that day. What they discovered is Martian dust has similar characteristics as dust storms on Earth. Among their findings and the aid of the software, led researchers to confirm the twister’s measurements using computer simulation: “approximately 100’ wide at its base, and stretched roughly a half mile into the sky.”

It goes to show that NASA is unraveling the mysteries of weather phenomena taking place on the planet. Not only is this very important for scientific research to help understand the evolution of Mars but also to find answers on its past climate history.

Thanks to NASA’s Mars probe, the recon satellite that scouts the planet, to the MRO and to the scientists’ dedicated hard work, it has been possible to learn of orbital characteristics of the planet Mars. Without the satellite and the MRO, we would neither understand nor have observations of the Martian surface.

What NASA scientists and the MRO have observed and discovered up to now has revealed remarkable geological characteristics taking place on the red planet. Other then small moons, volcanoes and a gigantic equatorial rift valley, what will these scientists find on Mars next?

Edited by Jennifer Russell
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