NASA's Curiosity rover snaps remarkable photos of rare high-altitude clouds on Mars


NASA‘s Curiosity rover has captured several remarkable images of clouds on Mars, a rare occurrence on the Red Planet.

The clouds, which were photographed in March 19, Curiosity’s 3,063rd sol (Martian day) usually only form during the coldest part of the year on Mars’ equator.

The clouds, described as ‘early’ according to the space agency, started forming in early January and are at a higher altitude than normal.

‘Most Martian clouds hover no more than about 37 miles (60 kilometers) in the sky and are composed of water ice,’ NASA wrote in a statement. ‘But the clouds Curiosity has imaged are at a higher altitude, where it’s very cold, indicating that they are likely made of frozen carbon dioxide, or dry ice.

‘Scientists look for subtle clues to establish a cloud’s altitude, and it will take more analysis to say for sure which of Curiosity’s recent images show water-ice clouds and which show dry-ice ones.’

It’s unclear at what altitude these clouds formed above the Martian surface. 

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover captured these clouds just after sunset on March 19, 2021, the 3,063rd Martian day, or sol, of the rover’s mission. The image is made up of 21 individual images stitched together and color corrected

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover captured these clouds just after sunset on March 19, 2021, the 3,063rd Martian day, or sol, of the rover’s mission. The image is made up of 21 individual images stitched together and color corrected

This images shows clouds over Mount Sharp on March 19, 2021, the 3,063rd Martian day

This images shows clouds over Mount Sharp on March 19, 2021, the 3,063rd Martian day

This photo is the combination of several images taken by the Curiosity rover on sol 3072, or March 28, 2021, just after sunset

This photo is the combination of several images taken by the Curiosity rover on sol 3072, or March 28, 2021, just after sunset

The Curiosity rover also discovered that noctilucent (twilight clouds that change in brightness) and iridescent (mother of pearl clouds that change in color) exist on the planet.

‘Noctilucent clouds grow brighter as they fill with crystals, then darken after the Sun’s position in the sky drops below their altitude,’ NASA explained.

The space agency added that the brightness of the clouds allows scientists to figure out how high they are.

Iridescent clouds are some of the most colorful — reds, greens, blues and purples are not uncommon — on the Red Planet and can be seen with the naked eye.

‘If you see a cloud with a shimmery pastel set of colors in it, that’s because the cloud particles are all nearly identical in size,’ said Mark Lemmon, an atmospheric scientist with the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado. ‘That’s usually happening just after the clouds have formed and have all grown at the same rate.’

‘It’s really cool to see something shining with lots of color on Mars,’ Lemmon added. 

NASA's Curiosity rover landed on Mars on August 6, 2012 after launching on November 26, 2011

NASA’s Curiosity rover landed on Mars on August 6, 2012 after launching on November 26, 2011

The Martian surface (specifically the Jezero Crater), as seen by the Curiosity rover

The Martian surface (specifically the Jezero Crater), as seen by the Curiosity rover

NASA’s Curiosity rover has made a number of exciting discoveries since landing on the Red Planet inside the Gale Crater.

Earlier this month, scientists pouring over data sent back from Curiosity found that organic, or carbon-containing, salts are likely present on Mars, which the agency says are chemical remnants of organic compounds.  

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In November 2020, researchers examined sediment data taken by the Curiosity rover and found that floods of unimaginable magnitude washed through Gale Crater around 4 billion years ago, raising the possibility life once existed on the Red Planet.   

It launched from Earth on November 26, 2011 and landed on Mars almost a year later, on August 6, 2012.  

THE NASA MARS CURIOSITY ROVER WAS LAUNCHED IN 2011 AND HAS IMPROVED OUR UNDERSTANDING OF THE RED PLANET

The Mars Curiosity rover was initially launched from Cape Canaveral, an American Air Force station in Florida on November 26, 2011. 

After embarking on a 350 million mile (560 million km) journey, the £1.8 billion ($2.5 billion) research vehicle touched down only 1.5 miles (2.4 km) away from the earmarked landing spot.

After a successful landing on August 6th, 2012, the rover has travelled about 11 miles (18 km). 

It was launched on the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) spacecraft and the rover constituted 23 per cent of the mass of the total mission. 

With 80 kg (180 lb) of scientific instruments on board, the rover weighs a total of 899 kg (1,982 lb) and is powered by a plutonium fuel source. 

The rover is 2.9 metres (9.5 ft) long by 2.7 metres (8.9 ft) wide by 2.2 metres (7.2 ft) in height. 

The rover was initially intended to be a two-year mission to gather information to help answer if the planet could support life, has liquid water, study the climate and the geology of Mars.  

Due to its success, the mission has been extended indefinitely and has now been active for over 2,000 days.

The rover has several scientific instruments on board, including the mastcam which consists of two cameras and can take high-resolution images and videos in real colour. 

So far on the journey of the car-sized robot it has encountered an ancient streambed where liquid water used to flow, not long after it also discovered that billions of years ago, a nearby area known as Yellowknife Bay was part of a lake that could have supported microbial life.



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