Blowin’ in the wind?

13 09 2008

I just watched dust devils on Mars! I know it sounds like a 1950’s science fiction film, but NASA has released a short–well, I guess it is a motion picture–stills linked together to show the dust devils. But this is on freakin’ Mars! And I think this is a great way to emphasize the presence of at least a little bit of atmosphere on Mars. Click on the photo!

I love dust devils. There is something mysterious and always very cool about them. They remind me of the energy beings in Roger Zelazny’s Lord of Light: the Rakasha.

Many years ago, on a sunny and very hot day in Arlington, Texas, I was out walking with my friend Anna. The Texas wind is almost constant, and its blast furnace nature could burn the hide right off of you. Anna was from Chicago, but that incessant Texas wind used to make her a bit crazy. In those days, 1973, I believe, I had yet to visit Chicago, much less live there, and I didn’t understand. I thought Chicago was the Windy City. Of course, I had grown up in Texas and this never-ending, blistering blow was just everyday life.

Then we walked past a vacant lot that was mostly dirt and a dust devil suddenly sprang into being! It was huge, 15 or 20 feet tall. I was thrilled, and a little bit scared. After all, wasn’t a dust devil just a junior tornado? And we knew about tornadoes in Texas. This big devil was fat in the middle and it flung tiny rocks at us as it danced across the hard-packed lot. It was so cool, and so eerie. Maybe it was a Rakasha! And then it was gone.

Currently I am reading Ben Bova’s latest, Mars Life. I will review it elsewhere, but Ben brings the cold dead world of Mars to life and this animation merely adds to the thrill of off-world doings.

In April of this year I drove from Dallas to Amarillo, Texas, a distance of more than 300 miles. We used to say there was nothing between Texas and the Arctic Circle except a couple of mesquite trees and a barbed wire fence. Well, this trip reminded me of what flat was all about. And there’s not a whole lot just a’ sitting on top of that flat either. It was in the Spring and plowing had commenced. The dirt of far North Texas is rust red, shot-through with iron, and with little traffic and not much else besides an occasional hawk riding the air currents above the freshly-plowed fields, I imagined I was in a rover and driving across the surface of Mars. The roads are pretty straight up in the Panhandle, too, not much to get in the way of road building, but I rounded a slight curve, and off to my right was a Martian-red furrowed field and three gigantic dust devils at play in the Spring air. Oh how I wish I had photographed that.

And now, dust devils on Mars, coming soon to a theater near you. I can’t wait for the color version.

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3 responses

14 09 2008
Chris

Wow, amazing!

15 09 2008
Marlene

Great post!

18 09 2008
Kathy Fairchild

to sit with you and enjoy the moment of discovery. I shall think of you when I see the moon tonight.

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