A NASA orbiter spots a monster twister on the Red Planet.
In March 2012, NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter captured high-resolution images of an enormous, 12-mile-high dust devil storming across the northern plains of Mars. Dust devils are rotating columns of air that kick up sand and dust as they spin. Like dust devils on Earth, Martian dust devils spontaneously form when heated air rises from the surface and mixes with pockets of cold air above. Scientists estimate the winds generated by these whirling vortices can exceed 45 mph. Dust devils are common occurrences on Mars and were first imaged by NASA’s Viking mission in the 1970s. Watch the animation to see one in motion.