NASA’s Curiosity rover has slightly excelled in atmospheric sciences on Mars.
The Curiosity roamingnow approaching its tenth year of exploration of the Red Planet, has captured images of clouds drifting over the exploration site on Mount Sharp (Aeolis Mons) to measure their speed.
But it wasn’t an easy task, as NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory notes at Blog post Monday (February 15), as Curiosity’s cameras aren’t designed to look at the sky. Instead, the rover cameras were meant for shooting Mars Rocks and landscape features on their journey to find ancient signs of habitability.
“Martian clouds are very faint in the atmosphere, so special imaging techniques are needed to see them,” JPL said in a blog post. “Multiple images are taken to be able to have a clear, static background. This allows anything else moving within the image – such as clouds or shadows – to become visible after that static background has been subtracted from each individual image.”
The clouds (and their shadows on the surface) were captured in two eight-frame movies taken on December 12, 2021 during the mission’s Sol day 3325, or Sol. (Days on the Red Planet are slightly longer than the 24-hour cycle on Earth.)
Curiosity has used its navigation camera twice to examine clouds from two different perspectives, the JPL said. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory said two opinions allow scientists to calculate the speed and height of the clouds, which in turn provides clues about their formation.
“These clouds are very high, 50 miles (80 kilometers) above the surface. It is very cold at this altitude, which indicates that these clouds are made of carbon dioxide ice as opposed to water ice clouds, which are usually found at lower altitudes, mentioned the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
The blog post didn’t say how fast the clouds move, but typical wind speeds near the surface of Mars range from 4.5 mph to 22 mph (7 to 35 kph), which may be fast enough to provide wind force on the red planet.
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