Mars dust devils leave their mark on the landscape

A global dust storm on Mars looks like it kicked up quite a fuss.

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

Dust devils on Mars are no joke, with some growing as tall as tornadoes on Earth. The whirlwinds often scour the Martian surface, leaving behind telltale signs of their presence. 

A recent global dust storm on Mars, which is now receding, seems to have left a dust devil calling card in a new image from the European Space Agency's ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter spacecraft released on Wednesday.  

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This collection of scratch-like streaks was likely caused by dust devils.


The processed view shows an alien-looking terrain described as "chaotic blocks." The surface looks like a giant clawed hand reached down and scratched it all over, revealing dark streaks against a lighter-colored background. 

Dust devils are common on Mars. NASA's rovers have seen them from ground level. NASA's now-defunct Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft even caught a dust devil in the act of making a dark streak back in 1999.   

Though ESA titled the image "dust devil tracks on Mars," the space agency is leaving the door open for other explanations for the distinctive marks, calling dust devils "one possible interpretation" for the dark streaks. 

The features bear a strong resemblance to marks seen in a 2016 image from NASA's 2001 Mars Odyssey mission. NASA says the scratch-like lines "are made by dust devil activity scouring the surface and removing the lighter toned dust to reveal the darker rocky surface below."

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