Phenomena

Martian Dust Devil

This photo from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter stares almost straight down a dust devil on Mars. Like their earthbound brethren, Martian dust devils form when the surface is heated by the sun, causing warm air to rise. The rising air causes a low pressure area that the surrounding air flows into. Any rotational motion of the air intensifies as it is entrained. This is a consequence of conservation of angular momentum. Just as a spinning ice skater spins faster when he pulls his arms in, the vorticity of the inward-flowing air increases, forming a vortex. In addition to dust devils, this same physical mechanism applies to waterspouts and fire tornadoes, although the heating source for those is different.  (Photo credit: NASA; via APOD)

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