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Video Shows Massive, Whirling Martian Dust Devil

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Last month the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter was a storm chaser—kind of like Helen Hunt in "Twister"—and it paid off with some great footage (okay, it's just one really cool shot).

Weather is otherwise sort of boring on Mars—there aren't tornadoes or thunderstorms since it's a dry planet—so dust devils are the main show. They're even bigger on Mars than Earth. The camera captured an aerial shot of the dust devil kicking up red dirt 12 miles above the surface of the planet, which is pretty big even in Martian terms.

"It really is the size of it that is the unique thing," Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientist Ashwin Vasavada told the Los Angeles Times.

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The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter was able to catch a shot of the dust devil because it has such a huge telescope, like a spy camera, that can zoom in on details from the surface as small as 11.8 inches across.

(Editors note: If it wasn't obvious before, yes, the animation is a recreation of what happened on the surface, but we'll let you know when James Cameron gets live 3D footage from the surface of the planet himself. In the meantime, this article explains how tornadoes are different than dust devils and why they're so tall and spindly on Mars.)

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Photo Essay: JPL Makes it to Mars