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NASA captures rare view of dancing Mars dust devil, and it's a monster

It's a good thing we weren't on Mars when this massive dust devil whirled around.

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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
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The MRO spacecraft snapped this scenic view of a large dust devil moving across Mars.

NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Mars is dusty. Mars is also windy. Put those two conditions together and you have a recipe for spectacular dust devils, which are localized whirlwinds that whip across the Martian landscape. 

NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter snapped a rare view of one of these dust devils in action. The MRO HiRise camera team at the University of Arizona shared the fascinating photo on Monday.

"There are several HiRise images of tracks left behind by dust devils, but it is rare to catch one in motion," wrote MRO team member Sharon Wilson. The spacecraft snapped the image in early October 2019.

Wilson estimated the core of the dust devil was about 164 feet (50 meters) across. The whirlwind's lengthy shadow suggests its plume reached skyward by over 2,100 feet (650 meters). You wouldn't want to land on Mars and see one of these monsters coming at you.

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NASA's MRO spacecraft captured this lucky view a whirling dust devil on Mars.

NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

A wider view from the HiRise camera helps to put the dust devil in perspective as it cast its shadow across Amazonis Planitia, a wide plains region. 

MRO isn't the only Mars machine on the lookout for dust devils. The Mars Opportunity rover snapped a lovely ground-level view of a whirlwind in 2016.

Towering dust devils are a hazard humans on Mars may have to contend with some day. Until then, we can sit safely back here on Earth and enjoy the views from NASA's emissaries to the Red Planet.

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