Curiosity rover captures bright clouds on Mars

Curiosity iridescent spots (mother of pearl) clouds. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Cloudy days are rare in the thin, dry atmosphere of Mars. Clouds are usually found at the planet’s equator in the coldest time of the year, when Mars is farthest from the sun in its elliptical orbit. But a full Martian year — two years on Earth — scientists noticed clouds forming over NASA’s Curiosity probe earlier than expected.

This year, they were ready to start documenting these ‘early’. Zipper From the moment they debuted in late January. What resulted are pictures of fluffy puffs filled with ice crystals This light emanating from the sunset, some shimmering with color. More than just stunning displays, these images help scientists understand how clouds form on Mars and why these recent images are different.

In fact, Curiosity’s team has already made a new discovery: Early clouds are actually at higher altitudes than usual. Most Martian clouds hover no more than 37 miles (60 kilometers) in the sky and consist of water ice. But the clouds photographed by Curiosity have reached a level higher heightIt is very cold, which indicates that it is likely made of frozen carbon dioxide, or dry ice. Scientists are looking for subtle clues to determine cloud height, and further analysis will be required to confirm which of the recent Curiosity images show water ice clouds and which ones show dry ice.

Curiosity shows clouds drifting on a steep mountain. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The subtle undulating structures of these clouds are easy to see using images from Curiosity’s black and white navigation cameras. But it’s the color photos from the Mast Camera for Rover, or Mastcam, that really shine—literally. Viewed just after sunset, their ice crystals catch the faint light, making them appear to glow against the darkening sky. These twilight clouds, also known as nocturnal clouds, get brighter as they are filled with crystals, and then darken after the sun’s position in the sky drops below its height. This is just one useful clue that scientists use to determine how high they are.

Curiosity’s navigation cameras spotted aurora clouds in Seoul 3072. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

Even more impressive are the iridescent or “mother of pearl” clouds. “If you see a cloud with a shimmering light color spectrum, it’s because nearly all of the cloud particles are identical in size,” said Mark Lemon, an atmospheric scientist at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado. “This usually happens right after the clouds form and they all grow at the same rate.”

He added that these clouds are among the colorful things on the red planet. If you are flying in the sky near Curiosity, you can see the colors with a file With the naked eye, although it will be faint.

“I always marvel at the colors that come out: red, green, blue, and violet,” Lemon said. “It’s really cool to see something so bright with so much color on Mars.”

Watch Mars’ clouds take off, thanks to NASA’s Curiosity

Introduction of
Jet Propulsion Laboratory

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