During its recent uphill drive to the top of Knudsen Ridge on Mars, the tilt of the Mars Opportunity rover reached 32 degrees, the steepest-ever for any rover on Mars. In this image – taken on March 31, 2016, the 4,332nd Martian day, or sol, of the rover’s work on Mars – you’re looking backwards along the rover’s tracks, with its camera aimed toward a dust devil twisting through the valley below.
In the image, the rover – which was launched from Earth in 2003 – has just climbed the north-facing slope of Knudsen Ridge on Mars. The ridge forms part of the southern edge of Marathon Valley.
Why is NASA’s image in black and white, by the way? It’s because it was taken with the Navcam on Opportunity, a camera that’s essential for enabling the rover to make its way across the surface of this alien world … but which doesn’t have a color camera.
Look below to see how artist Don Davis remedied the lack of color with some processing here on Earth:
Dust devils were a common sight for Opportunity’s twin rover, Spirit, in its outpost at Gusev Crater, but Opportunity has seen them only rarely.
Just as on Earth, a dust devil is created by a rising, rotating column of hot air. When the column whirls fast enough, it picks up tiny grains of dust from the ground, making the vortex visible.
Bottom line: Mars Opportunity rover image of a dust devil, from a perch on Knudsen Ridge on Mars, part of the southern edge of Marathon Valley, acquired on March 31, 2016, the 4,332nd Martian day, or sol, of the rover’s work on Mars.
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and founded EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.