NASA rover photographs unprecedented phenomenon

NASA rover photographs unprecedented phenomenon
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Von: Tanya Banner

Special “rays of the sun” on Mars: The NASA rover “Curiosity” photographed this phenomenon called “cloud rays” on the red planet. It’s the first time a mission to Mars has seen and photographed the “cloud rays.” © NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

NASA’s Curiosity rover is currently observing clouds on Mars. In doing so, he photographed a phenomenon that had never been observed before.

Boulder – The NASA rover has been researching for more than ten years „Curiosity“ the Mars, but he has never taken such an image before: On February 2, 2023, the sun illuminated a cloud bank as it set on the red planet and “Curiosity” photographed the resulting effect. So-called “cloud rays” can be seen. The direct rays of the sun are blocked by the clouds, but their rays emerge at the edge.

Researchers are looking for liquid water on Mars.  (icon picture)
The red planet Mars. (Iconic image) © imago images/UIG

Like the US Space Agency Nasa reports, it is the first time cloud rays have been so clearly seen on Mars. Curiosity picked up the phenomenon as part of a new study. The rover has been observing clouds at dusk since January. The observation campaign will run until mid-March.

NASA’s Curiosity rover captures an unusual image on Mars

Colors can be seen in the photo of the cloud rays, the clouds seem to shimmer reddish and bluish. Another image taken by Curiosity on January 27, 2023 shows a cloud shaped like a feather. The unusually shaped cloud is illuminated by sunlight, which has a breathtaking effect: the cloud glows in rainbow colors.

“When we see iridescence, it means that a cloud’s particle sizes are identical to those of its neighbors in every part of the cloud,” explains Mark Lemmon, an atmospheric scientist at the Space Science Institute in Boulder. “If we look at the color transitions, we see that the particle size changes in the cloud. This tells us how the cloud is evolving and how the size of the particles is changing over time.”

A plume-shaped cloud in the sky over Mars.  NASA's Curiosity rover photographed the cloud shimmering in rainbow colors.  Researchers can derive some information from the colors.
A plume-shaped cloud in the sky over Mars. NASA’s Curiosity rover photographed the cloud shimmering in rainbow colors. Researchers can derive some information from the colors. © NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Clouds on Mars reveal a lot about the planet

Both shots, both the cloud rays and the shimmering feather, were taken as panoramas by “Curiosity”. Each of the images was assembled from 28 exposures and edited to bring out the colors clearly, according to NASA. Just a few months ago was the Nasa rover „Perseverance“ also one impressive picture in interaction with the sun succeeded.

Clouds on Mars can reveal a lot to researchers. By observing clouds, experts can learn more about the composition of the Martian atmosphere and temperature. The clouds also contain information about the winds on the red planet and the weather in general.

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As a rule, clouds on the red planet are no higher than 60 kilometers above the surface and consist of water ice. According to the NASA researchers, however, the clouds in the current images appear to be in higher regions where it is colder. Therefore, experts assume that they are made of carbon dioxide ice (known as dry ice). (tab)


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