HomeScience and Nature Curiosity Rover Images Sun Rays and Feather-Shaped Clouds on Mars

Curiosity Rover Images Sun Rays and Feather-Shaped Clouds on Mars

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‘Sun rays’ are also known as crepuscular rays, from the Latin word for twilight. It was the first time sun rays have been so clearly viewed on Mars.

This feather-shaped iridescent cloud was captured just after sunset on January 27, 2023, the 3,724th Martian day, or Sol, of Curiosity’s mission. Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS.

“NASA’s Curiosity rover captured the scene during the rover’s newest twilight cloud survey, which builds on its 2021 observations of noctilucent (night-shining) clouds,” members of the Curiosity team said in a statement.

“While most Martian clouds hover no more than 60 km (37 miles) above the ground and are composed of water ice, the clouds in the latest images appear to be at a higher altitude, where it’s especially cold. That suggests these clouds are made of carbon dioxide ice.”

“As on Earth, clouds provide scientists with complex but crucial information for understanding the weather.”

“By looking at when and where clouds form, we can learn more about the Martian atmosphere’s composition and temperatures, and the winds within it.”

The 2021 cloud survey included more imaging by Curiosity’s black-and-white navigation cameras, providing a detailed look at a cloud’s structure as it moves.

But the recent survey, which began in January 2023 and will wrap up in mid-March, relies more often on the rover’s Mast Camera (Mastcam), which helps planetary scientists see how cloud particles grow over time.

Curiosity captured these sun rays shining through clouds at sunset on February 2, 2023, the 3,730th Martian day, or Sol, of the mission. Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS / SSI.

In addition to the image of sun rays, Curiosity captured a set of colorful clouds shaped like a feather on January 27.

When illuminated by sunlight, certain types of clouds can create a rainbowlike display called iridescence.

“Where we see iridescence, it means a cloud’s particle sizes are identical to their neighbors in each part of the cloud,” said Mark Lemmon, an atmospheric scientist with the Space Science Institute.

“By looking at color transitions, we’re seeing particle size changing across the cloud. That tells us about the way the cloud is evolving and how its particles are changing size over time.”

Curiosity captured both the sun rays and iridescent clouds as panoramas, each of which was stitched together from 28 images sent to Earth

The images have been processed to emphasize the highlights.


This article is based on text provided by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Source : Breaking Science News

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