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Indeed, RAD represents the first time humans have measured surface-radiation levels on any planet other than Earth.
But for that Dorothy and Toto kind of feel, nothing beats the dust devils. These features tend to form when warm air at the ground quickly rises into a patch of cooler air. If conditions are right, the narrow column of warm air begins to rotate, thinning as it rises, which increases its spin. Additional warm air near the surface can get drawn into the vortex, perpetuating the mini-twister as it pirouettes across the Martian surface.
As twisters go, these are among the the solar system's 98-pound weaklings. If an astronaut happened to be standing by the rover when one passed, dust might have obscured her view briefly, but she wouldn't have felt a thing because the Martian atmosphere is so thin.
Still, collectively, dust devils join dust storms in kicking up silt that warms the Martian atmosphere, says Dr. de la Torre Juarez, the investigation scientist for REMS.
In addition to their effect on climate, they can give new life to dust-covered solar panels by sweeping the panels free of accumulated silt. The rovers Spirit and Opportunity experienced the cleaning power of dust devils.
But dust devils also can threaten technology on the surface. On Mars, they can grow up to 100 times bigger than Earth's dust devils. As they spin, collisions among the dust particles can build up charges of static electricity that can affect sensitive instruments.
"That's an active area of study," de la Torre Juarez says.
And as for the Curiosity-Kansas connection, there actually is one. The rover's name was submitted in 2009 by Clara Ma, then a sixth-grader who hailed from Lenexa, Kan.