Dust Devils of Mars: See Wild NASA Views of Red Planet Whirlwinds

Whip it good, Mars. Rovers and spacecraft have documented some spectacular Martian twisters and the tracks they leave behind.

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser
Overhead shot of the reddish Martian landscape, which serves as the backdrop for a sinuous, long white dust devil with a snakelike tail.
1 of 17 NASA/JPL/UArizona

The Serpent

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.

Dark scratchlike dust devil tracks show up against bright dunes.
2 of 17 NASA/JPL/UArizona

Dust Devils Leave Tracks

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.

A color-processed image shows a long dust devil twisting across Mars dunes.
3 of 17 NASA/JPL/UArizona

Sinuous Dust Devil

In early 2020, NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter looked down and captured this beauty of a dust devil whipping over dunes inside a crater. 

A moody black-and-white image of the Martian terrain.
4 of 17 NASA/JPL/UArizona

MRO Dust Devil Wide View

This perspective-shot shows the wider area where MRO saw a dust devil in early 2020. The whirlwind is marked by a yellow circle.

Black-and-white rover view of Mars shows rover tracks close to the camera and a distant white whirlwind.
5 of 17 NASA

Opportunity Witnesses a Whirlwind

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.

A top-down perspective of the reddish Mars landscape, with a fluffy-looking dust devil at the center.
6 of 17 NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Monster Dust Devil

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.

Zoomed-out black-and-white orbiter view of Mars landscape with tall dust devil in the center.
7 of 17 NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Dust Devil in Perspective

Here's a wider view of the dancing dust devil seen by MRO in 2019.

A processed orbiter image shows a mounded landscape in light colors with blue scratchlike dust devil tracks.
8 of 17 ESA/Roscosmos/CaSSIS

Otherworldly Look at Dust Devil Tracks

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.

InSight lander selfie mosaic shows the machine coated in dust.
9 of 17 NASA/JPL-Caltech

A Lack of Dust Devils

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.

A color-processed image shows a light Mars landscape covered in blue dust devil tracks that look like a wad of hair.
10 of 17 ESA/Roscosmos/CaSSIS

Dust Devil Frenzy

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.

Black-and-white Mars landscape with hills in the distance and rocks in the foreground.
11 of 17 NASA/JPL-Caltech

Mars Dust Devil

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.

Reddish Mars landscape seen top-down with a cloudlike plume of white off to the side.
12 of 17 NASA/JPL-Caltech/UArizona

Dust Devil on the Side

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."

A gray-blue processed orbiter view of Mars contains several hard-to-spot dust devils.
13 of 17 ESA/Roscosmos/CaSSIS

Dust Devil Challenge

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?  

A gray-blue processed orbiter view of Mars contains several hard-to-spot dust devils.
14 of 17 ESA/Roscosmos/CaSSIS

Dust Devil Close-Up

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.

Plume of white dust casting a shadow against Martian dunes.
15 of 17 NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Sure Looks Like a Dust Devil

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. 

Stark black-and-white image shows light dunes with dark scratchlike dust devil marks.
16 of 17 NASA/JPL/UArizona

Stark Whirlwind Tracks

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.

A lumpy landscape covered in dark dust devil tracks.
17 of 17 ESA/Roscosmos/CaSSIS

After a Global Dust Storm

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.

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