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12-mile-high dust devil captured on Mars

April 6, 2012 - Los Angeles

NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter last month snapped a dust devil - 12 miles high - thundering across the surface of the red planet.

"It really is the size of it that is the unique thing," LA Times quoted Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientist Ashwin Vasavada as saying.

"Conditions allowed this single giant vortex to form and survive to suck up dust all the way to that height."

The sun beats down on the desert-like surface of Mars and with the absence of water and the "extremely thin atmosphere" convection begins, said Vasavada, deputy project scientist for the Mars Science Laboratory.

"Roiling, turbulent air" forms at the planet's surface in a layer five to 10 miles thick, he said.

These types of conditions can send dust devils spinning, Vasavada added.


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