Curiosity rover captures our first clear view of Mars’ solar rays

NASA’s Perseverance rover may have been out there 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 observed Martian clouds at twilight to build on its previous study of nocturnal clouds. And on February 2, Curiosity captured a rare sight on camera, making it the first time we’ve seen crepuscular rays (or “sunrays”) this clearly from the Martian surface.

The clouds in the image above are located at a higher altitude than most Martian clouds, which sit about 37 miles above the ground and are made of water ice. Since the clouds in the image are higher up, where it is particularly cold, NASA believes they are instead made of frozen carbon dioxide – or dry ice as we call it. The agency says observing clouds on Mars can help scientists learn more about the planet’s atmospheric conditions, temperatures and winds.
For this particular survey, which began in January and will conclude in mid-March, Curiosity is mostly using its color mast camera, or mast camera. The equipment allows the rover to take images that would show scientists how cloud particles glow over time. To create the panorama you see above, NASA composited 28 images taken by Mastcam. In 2021, however, Curiosity relied mostly on its black-and-white navigation cameras, giving us a detailed look at the structure of the clouds as they move.

In addition to our first clear view of Mars’ solar flares, the rover has also captured images of other interesting cloud formations since the current survey began. An image from January 27 (below) shows an iridescent cloud shaped like a feather. Apparently, the color transitions caused by iridescence tell scientists how the cloud is evolving and how its particle size changes across the structure.


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