On March 6, 2023, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) released two panoramic images of the Martian sky taken by the Curiosity rover. This image is one of them, taken on February 2, 2023 (Mission 3730 Sol) using the “Mastcam” mounted on Curiosity’s mast.※), created by combining 28 images of the sky after sunset.
* 1 mry = 1 solar day on Mars, approximately 24 hours and 40 minutes.
According to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which manages Curiosity, the light illuminating the clouds from beyond the horizon is an auroral ray familiar to Earth. Auroral rays are a phenomenon in which sunlight filtering through gaps in clouds appears to diffuse radially, and according to JPL, no such clear auroral rays have ever been captured on Mars.
The other, shown here, was created by combining 28 Mastcam images taken on January 27, 2023 (Mission Sol 3724). It captures gorgeous views of the shimmering feather-like clouds that float across the sky after sunset.
The images were taken as part of a 2021 study of Mars’ nocturnal clouds — clouds that glow in the dark sky before and after sunrise, according to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Most clouds on Mars float at an altitude of 60 km or less, but the clouds imaged this time appear to be higher than that. The higher than typical clouds of water ice grains indicate that these clouds may be composed of carbon dioxide (dry ice) ice grains.
According to Mark Lemon, an atmospheric scientist at the Space Science Institute (SSI) in Boulder, Colorado, iridescence in the clouds means that nearby particles are the same size, and the change in color is said to indicate a change in particle size. Color images of noctilucent clouds taken by Mastcam are useful for studying how the size of the particles that make up clouds (cloud droplets) change over time.
RELATED: A Rare Cloudy Day on Mars. Rover Curiosity Also Captures ‘Dark Clouds’
- Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/SSI
- NASA/JPL NASA sees the first “rays of the sun” on Mars
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