NASA’s Perseverance rover may have been on Mars since 2021, collecting rock samples and finding hints of water, but that doesn’t mean its predecessor has already retired from its explorations. In fact, the Curiosity rover has been observing Martian clouds during dusk to build on previous surveys of bright clouds at night. And on February 2nd, Curiosity Captured a rare sight on camera, making it the first time we’ve seen auroral rays (or “sunrays”) visible from the surface of Mars.
The clouds in the above image are higher than most Martian clouds, which sit about 37 miles above Earth’s surface and consist of water ice. Since the clouds in the image are higher where it’s particularly cold, NASA thinks they’re made of frozen carbon dioxide — or dry ice, as we call it — instead. The agency says observing clouds on Mars can help scientists learn more about weather conditions, temperatures and winds on Mars.
For this particular survey, which began in January and will conclude in mid-March, Curiosity is mostly using the Mast Color Camera, or Mastcam. The equipment allows the rover to take pictures that show scientists how cloud particles glow over time. To create the panorama you see above, NASA pulled together 28 images taken by Mastcam. In 2021, though, Curiosity relied mostly on black and white navigation cameras that provided us with a detailed look at the structure of clouds as they moved.
In addition to the first visible display of sunlight on Mars, the probe has also captured images of other interesting cloud formations since the current survey began. 27 (below) shows an iridescent feather-shaped cloud. Apparently, the color shifts caused by iridescence tell scientists how the cloud evolves and how its particle size changes across the structure.
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