This movie clip shows a several dust devils -- whirlwinds that loft dust into the air -- moving across a plain below the hillside vantage point of NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit. Several of the dust devils are visible at once in some of the 21 frames in this sequence. The local solar time was about 2 p.m., when the ground temperature was high enough to cause turbulence that kicks up dust devils as the wind blows across the plain. The number of seconds elapsed since the first frame is indicated at lower left of the images, typically 20 seconds between frames. Spirit's navigation camera took these images on the rover's 461st martian day, or sol (April 20, 2005.) Contrast has been enhanced for anything in the images that changes from frame to frame, that is, for the dust devil.
Scientists expected dust devils since before Spirit landed. The landing area inside Gusev Crater is filled with dark streaks left behind when dust devils pick dust up from an area. It is also filled with bright "hollows," which are dust-filled miniature craters. Dust covers most of the terrain. Winds flow into and out of Gusev crater every day. The Sun heats the surface so that the surface is warm to the touch even though the atmosphere at 2 meters (6 feet) above the surface would be chilly. That temperature contrast causes convection. Mixing the dust, winds, and convection can trigger dust devils.