Mars rover snaps photo of dust devil

July 29, 2010 at 11:11 PM
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PASADENA, Calif., July 29 (UPI) -- NASA's Opportunity Mars rover has spotted and photographed its first dust devil in six years of traveling around the planet, scientists say.

Unlike Spirit, its robotic twin on Mars, which has captured numerous snaps of dust devils, Opportunity has always come up empty -- until now, reported Thursday.

The July 15 photo was taken with Opportunity's mast-mounted panoramic camera, the rover science team said.

Spirit has had more luck spotting dust devils because its exploration site with a crater is rougher and dustier, so vortices of wind from and kick up more dust, they said.

Opportunity and Spirit arrived on the surface of Mars in 2004, for missions originally designed to last for three months. Opportunity landed on Mars Jan. 25, 2004.

Spirit fell silent on March 22 of this year, when it missed a planned communications session with controllers on Earth.

It has been out of communication since then, entering a low-power hibernation mode as the Martian winter set in and temperature dropped, leaving the rover with insufficient power to properly function, the rover team said.

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