NASA’s Curiosity Rover Captures the First Images of Sun Rays on Mars
NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has captured images of sun rays shining through the clouds at sunset, the first time this type of light has ever been observed on the Red Planet.
Mars is known for being gloomy with the atmosphere often chocked up with dust so it’s rare to get visible sun rays shining over the Earth’s neighboring planet.
The photo was taken on February 6, NASA says, and is the first time that the sun rays, also known as crepuscular rays, have been viewed so clearly.
The Curiosity Rover shared the image to its Twitter page and it was taken as part of the rover’s twilight cloud survey.
The image was captured as a panorama, stitched together from 28 images and sent back to Earth. NASA says that the picture has been processed to emphasize the highlights,
Well, this is a first… 😍
As I watched the sunset last month, I captured something spectacular: My team says these are some of the most clearly visible images of sun rays we've ever seen on Mars! pic.twitter.com/HIgzZHdAyV
— Curiosity Rover (@MarsCuriosity) March 6, 2023
“While most Martian clouds hover no more than 37 miles (60 kilometers) above the ground and are composed of water ice, the clouds in the latest images appear to be at a higher altitude, where it’s especially cold,” writes NASA in a statement. “That suggests these clouds are made of carbon dioxide ice, or dry ice.”
The clouds provide NASA with important information to understand Martian weather. Just like on Earth, by looking at when and where the clouds form scientists can learn about Mars’s atmosphere, temperatures, and winds.
Colorful Clouds Over Mars
In addition to the sun rays, on January 27 the rover captured colorful clouds shaped like a feather. When illuminated by sunlight, certain types of clouds can create a rainbow-like display called iridescence.
“Where we see iridescence, it means a cloud’s particle sizes are identical to their neighbors in each part of the cloud,” says 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.”