It looks like some giant monster raked its clawed paws across the surface of Mars. An eye-opening set of images from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter actually shows dark dust devil tracks against bright dunes.
Mars is dusty and windy, making it a prime location for dust devils. These localized whirlwinds can reach great heights. NASA spotted one in 2012 that was 12 miles (20 kilometers) high. They can also leave quite a mark on the landscape, as seen in the MRO views.
One image shows a close-up of the dark tracks while a second gives a wider view of the landscape. The tracks were spotted in Galle Crater, an area known for dust devil activity. Galle Crater was nicknamed the "happy face" crater because it resembles a classic smiley face thanks to formations inside.
MRO has been in orbit around Mars since 2006 and its HiRise (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) camera is responsible for some of our most . The HiRise team described the tracks as having an "odd distribution."
The dust devil tracks date to late 2018 and were featured as a University of Arizona HiRise HiPod picture of the day on Tuesday. The MRO HiRise camera has sent back a wealth of images, which makes the HiPod archive a valuable resource for highlighting views of Mars that might otherwise be overlooked.
The study of dust devils on Mars can tell scientists about wind patterns and how formations like dunes are shaped and then change over time. Martian whirlwinds can also act like dust busters for our robotic explorers. NASA's Insight lander got an assist from a wind vortex in 2019 that helped scrub some dust off its solar panels.
For a very different view of dust devils on Mars, check outshowing a whirlwind in action from ground level. These temperamental twisters are quite a sight, .