Marching Dust Devils

On an early fall afternoon in Ganges Chasma (Valles Marineris), we managed to capture a cluster of 8 dust devils , five of them in the enhanced color strip. They’re together on a dark sandy surface that tilts slightly to the north, towards the Sun.

Both of these factors help warm the surface and generate convection in the air above. The surface is streaked with the faint tracks of earlier dust devils. A pair of dust devils appears together at top right, spaced only 250 meters apart. These two have quite different morphologies. The bigger one (on the right) is about 100 meters in diameter and is shaped like a doughnut with a hole in the middle. Its smaller companion is more compact and plume-like, but it too has a small hole in the center, where the air pressure is lowest. It may be that the smaller dust devil is younger than the larger one. A row of four dust devils are in the middle of the color strip, separated by about 900 meters from one another.

This image might answer some interesting questions about the behavior of dust devils. Dust devils are theoretically expected to migrate uphill on a sloping surface, or migrate downwind when there is a breeze. Where they are found close together in pairs, they are expected to rotate in opposite directions. HiRISE color observations can be used to determine the direction of rotation and—for fast moving dust devils—the direction of their travel. This is because the different color observations (infrared, red, and blue) are taken at slightly different times. The differences between the earliest color observation and the last tell us about the changes that took place during that time interval.

All this requires careful analysis, but if these dust devils are moving fast enough, and spaced closely enough, these here might display some interesting “social dynamics,” possibly marching together and rotating in alternating directions.

Written by: Paul Geissler   (4 November 2015)

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Image: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona