NASA’s Curiosity rover watches stunning sunset on Mars
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The Curiosity rover just sent back a stunning postcard capturing its view of a shimmering sunset on Mars.
NASA’s rover has roamed the surface of Mars for more than 10 years, searching for answers as to why the red planet went from warm and humid to a frozen desert. She has discovered intriguing rock formations, searched for signs of life and climbed Mount Sharp in the center of Gale Crater.
But instead of continuing to focus on the nearly endless red expanse of rock and dirt below its wheels, the rover has recently been looking up.
On February 2, Curiosity observed rays of sunlight stretching across the horizon and illuminating a bank of clouds as the sun set on Mars. It is the first time the rays, known as crepuscular rays, have been seen so clearly on the red planet.
The rover is conducting a survey of twilight clouds on Mars to follow up on its previous observations of night-glow clouds. In 2021, Curiosity used its black-and-white navigation cameras to see the structure of those clouds as they moved across Mars.
Clouds provide deeper insight into weather patterns and conditions. Scientists can use information about when and where clouds form on Mars to learn more about the planet’s atmospheric composition and temperatures, as well as wind.
The new survey, which began in January and will end later this month, uses the rover’s color camera mounted on its mast to watch how cloud particles grow.
On Mars, most clouds are composed of frozen ice and float about 37 miles (60 kilometers) above the ground. But Curiosity spotted clouds reaching a higher altitude, as seen in the new photo, leading researchers to believe they are made of frozen carbon dioxide ice — or dry ice. Scientists are still studying them to understand why this happens.
Curiosity captured a distinctive image of iridescent, feather-like clouds on January 27.
“Where we see iridescence, it means that the particle sizes of a cloud are identical to their neighbors in each part of the cloud,” Mark Lemmon, an atmospheric scientist with the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado, said in a statement. . “By looking at the color transitions, we’re seeing the change in particle size across the cloud. This tells us about how the cloud is evolving and how its particles are changing size over time.”