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NASA's Curiosity Rover Captures ‘sun Rays’ On Mars For The First Time, Picture Goes Viral

The image was taken by Curiosity during the rover's most recent study of twilight clouds, which expands on its observations of noctilucent.

| Written By
Vidit Baya

Image: NASA Mars Exploration

Sunsets on Mars are often breathtaking, but the one NASA's Curiosity rover captured last month stands out. The Sun rays on February 2 highlighted a bank of clouds as it set over the horizon. Crepuscular rays, derived from the Latin word for "twilight," are another name for these "Sun beams." It was the first time that sunlight could be seen so vividly on Mars.

The image was taken by Curiosity during the rover's most recent study of twilight clouds, which expands on its observations of noctilucent, or night-shining, clouds from 2021. The clouds in the most recent photographs appear to be at a greater altitude, where it is very cold, but the majority of Martian clouds are made of water ice and hang no more than 37 miles (60 kilometres) above the surface. This suggests that the dry ice, or carbon dioxide ice, that makes up these clouds.

Similar to Earth, clouds offer scientists intricate yet essential data for comprehending the weather. Scientists can gain additional knowledge about the Martian atmosphere's composition, temperatures, and winds by observing when and where clouds form.

More black-and-white navigation camera data from Curiosity was used in the 2021 cloud survey to provide a thorough look at a cloud's structure as it moves. Nevertheless, the most current survey, which started in January and will end in mid-March, relies primarily on the Mastcam, a colour camera mounted on the top of the rover that allows scientists to observe how cloud particles develop over time.

More about the exploration mission

On January 27, Curiosity also photographed a group of multicoloured clouds in the shape of a feather in addition to the photo of the Sun rays. Some kinds of clouds have the ability to exhibit iridescence, a rainbow-like show when exposed to sunlight.

“Where we see iridescence, it means a cloud’s particle sizes are identical to their neighbors in each part of the cloud,” said Mark Lemmon, an atmospheric scientist with the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado. “By looking at color transitions, we’re seeing particle size changing across the cloud. That tells us about the way the cloud is evolving and how its particles are changing size over time,” as stated in a statement by NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology. 

Curiosity combined together 28 photos transmitted to Earth to create panoramas of the Sun's beams and the iridescent clouds. The photographs have undergone processing to make the highlights stand out.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which is run by Caltech in Pasadena, California, created Curiosity. For NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, JPL is in charge of leading the mission. Mastcam was created by and is run by Malin Space Science Systems in San Diego.

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