“Whoosh” or “Whumpf!!” ?

Some new images have come back from Oppy, currently scootling along on her way to Endeavour, and a couple of them show something… (raises eyebrow Spock-style)… interesting

Er, what’s that… thing… up near the horizon there? Let’s take a closer look, and tweak it a bit…

Ah, now that looks a bit more familiar. It looks like one of these

…which have been seen many times by Oppy’s sister, “Spirit”, on the other side of Mars, inside Gusev Crater, and are martian equivalents of these

– “dust devils”, swirling columns of dust lifted off the ground by thermal effects. They look like this from orbit…

You can see the dark trail left behind the dust devil, showing where it has scoured the light-coloured dust from the surface, exposing the darker ground underneath.

Dust devils have been seen many, many times before by Spirit, so many times that they’ve become familiar parts of the scenery and there are many great movies showing them whirling and twirling across the plain, but we haven’t seen any during Oppy’s trek so far, so this sighting was, to say the least, something of a surprise!

Here’s a panorama I made showing it in the context of the Faraway Hills…

Very impressive, I’m sure you’ll agree. But… well… I just want to raise a hand at the back of the class and suggest an alternative for that dusty puff, because I can’t help wondering if it’s something else, namely a dust cloud puffed up into the air by the impact of a small meteorite into the plain up ahead…

It’s just that, with dust devils being so rare on this part of Mars, it’s odd that we should suddenly see such a big one now. It seems strange that we haven’t seen at least a couple of smaller ones – or ones at least as big – sometime in the past half dozen years?

Actually, a quick look at images of the area taken from orbit show a LOT of dust devil tracks…

…but I still like my alternative theory! 🙂 I’m no expert, and I’m quite prepared to be proved wrong on this, but it would be interesting to see fresh orbital images of the ground up ahead (and there MUST be some being taken soon, to help plan Oppy’s drive), in case a new crater has appeared. That would be fantastic – a fresh (and “fresh” as in fresh, not ‘made some time in the last 50,000 years’! ) crater would be a definite “must see” stop for Oppy.

And if my theory’s totally wrong, well, hey, no problem, it just means we’ve seen a BIG dust devil for the first time, and that might suggest that the Endeavour hills’ topography encourages dust devil formation, which wouldn’t be a bad thing At All for a rover that benefits from being given a dust-off now and again –

Hey, that’s a point… Oppy was cleaned off recently, wasn’t she? Maybe that was a passing dust devil? Hmmm… (raises Spock eyebrow again)… Fascinating… 🙂

Apart from the dust devil, Oppy’s latest pics show nice details on the hills. Please click on these images to bring up full size versions.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, CURIOSITY, the “next Mars rover”, has taken her first baby steps. Full report on my main blog, “Cumbrian Sky“…

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