Mars is a notoriously dusty and windy planet. Put those two factors together and you have a recipe for spectacular dust devils, twisters that zip across the Martian surface. These scenic whirlwinds have been witnessed by rovers on the ground and by orbiting spacecraft.
The NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's HiRise camera caught this view of a towering dust devil in 2012. NASA described it as "the serpent dust devil of Mars." The shadow indicated the whirlwind plume reached over half a mile (800 meters) in height.
Dust devils often leave signs of their presence on Mars that orbiting spacecraft can spot from far above. NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter captured this view of scratchlike tracks against brighter-colored dunes in 2018. The image was processed to highlight the trails left by the whirlwinds.
In early 2020, NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter looked down and captured this beauty of a dust devil whipping over dunes inside a crater.
This perspective-shot shows the wider area where MRO saw a dust devil in early 2020. The whirlwind is marked by a yellow circle.
NASA's dearly departed Opportunity rover, which reached the end of its mission after enduring a global dust storm, took this spectacular landscape shot of a dust devil in the distance in 2016. The rover's tracks are visible in the foreground.
NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft has snapped some stunning views of dust devils, including this beauty from late 2019. MRO team member Sharon Wilson estimated that the core of the dust devil was about 164 feet (50 meters) across. The whirlwind's lengthy shadow suggested its plume reached up more than 2,100 feet (650 meters). What a beast.
Here's a wider view of the dancing dust devil seen by MRO in 2019.
The European Space Agency described this Martian scene imaged by the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) in early 2022 as chaotic and otherworldly. This zoomed-in view highlights trails of dust devils in blue. Dust devils are capable of leaving scratchlike marks on the landscape.
NASA's InSight lander has relied on solar power for its mission. The lander's handlers had hoped a dust devil would come along and clean the layer of dust off its solar panels, but that never happened. A lack of power means InSight is wrapping up its mission to better understand the red planet's interior. This InSight selfie from April 24, 2022, is the lander's last.
As its name suggests, the European Space Agency's ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter is investigating gases on Mars, but it also has a camera that captures spectacular scenery down on the red planet. ESA described this 2019 image release as a "dust devil frenzy."
The image has been processed to highlight the dust devil tracks in dark blue against the lighter surface. It likely took hundreds or thousands of dust devils to make this wild pattern.
ESA and Russian space agency Roscosmos partnered on the ExoMars mission.
It's hard to see in this still image (click here for the action GIF), but this shot comes from late 2020 when a dust devil showed off for the NASA Curiosity rover's camera. Curiosity periodically takes dust devil movies to monitor wind and dust activity in the Gale Crater on Mars.
NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter caught most of a dust devil plume in this 2008 image. The HiRise camera team said, "We got lucky, although not lucky enough to capture the whole swirl in the color strip."
In 2021, the European Space Agency presented a Mars dust devil challenge by sharing an ExoMars orbiter image with several dust devils hiding in it. At least one of them is easy to spot. It's also bluer than the surrounding landscape. How many can you find?
Here's some help with that European Space Agency Mars dust devil challenge. This cropped image makes at least one of them easier to find. Look for the blue plume.
The NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter HiRise camera team delivered this shot of a likely dust devil in a high-res release in 2019. MRO snapped the original image in 2010. Clues that this is a dust devil include the fluffy plume of dust and the shadow it's casting on the surface.
The NASA MRO spacecraft's HiRise camera snapped this view of dark dust devil tracks on bright dunes in Galle Crater in 2018. Galle Crater is nicknamed the "happy face" crater because broader views make it look like a cartoon happy face due to formations inside of it.
This collection of scratchlike streaks was likely caused by whirlwinds left zipping over terrain described as "chaotic blocks." The European Space Agency said in 2018 that the marks might have another explanation but that dust devils were probably the culprits.