Phenomena

Dust Devils

Dust devils, like fire tornadoes and waterspouts, form from warm, rising air. As the sun heats the ground to temperatures hotter than the surrounding atmosphere, hot air will begin to rise. When it rises, that air leaves behind a region of lower pressure that draws in nearby air. Any vorticity in that air gets intensified as it gets pulled toward the low pressure area. It will start to spin faster, exactly like a spinning ice skater who pulls in his arms. The result is a spinning vortex of air driven by buoyant convection. On Earth, dust devils are typically no more than a few meters in size and can only pick up light objects like leaves or hay. On Mars, dust devils can be hundreds of meters tall, and, though they’re too weak to do much damage, they have helpfully cleaned off the solar panels of some of our rovers! (Image credit: T. Bargman, source; via Gizmodo)

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