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NASA’s Curiosity Rover Views First ‘Sun Rays’ on Mars

NASA

Curiosity Views First Martian ‘Sun Rays’: NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover captured these “sun rays” shining through clouds at sunset on Feb. 2, 2023, the 3,730th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/SSI.

Curiosity Views First Martian ‘Sun Rays’: NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover captured these “sun rays” shining through clouds at sunset on Feb. 2, 2023, the 3,730th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/SSI.

NASA’s Curiosity rover captured sun rays on Mars – which are described as uniquely moody – last month that the agency said “stands out.” As the Sun descended over the horizon on Feb. 2, said NASA, rays of light illuminated a bank of clouds. These “sun rays” are also known as crepuscular rays, from the Latin word for “twilight.” It was the first time sun rays have been so clearly viewed on Mars.

This comes after just last month NASA’s Curiosity Rover was said to have found evidence that there was once water on the surface of Mars. Curiosity found rippled rock textures that suggest there may have been a lake in that location once a long time ago, in an area that NASA did not expect to find such evidence.

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As for the latest find, NASA’s Curiosity Rover captured the scene during the rover’s newest twilight cloud survey, which builds on its 2021 observations of noctilucent, or night-shining, clouds. 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. That suggests these clouds are made of carbon dioxide ice, or dry ice.

As on Earth, NASA explained, clouds provide scientists with complex but crucial information for understanding the weather. By looking at when and where clouds form, scientists can learn more about the Martian atmosphere’s composition and temperatures, and the winds within it.

“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.”

Curiosity captured both the sun rays and iridescent clouds as panoramas, each of which was stitched together from 28 images sent to Earth. The images have been processed to emphasize the highlights.

“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.”

Curiosity captured both the sun rays and iridescent clouds as panoramas, each of which was stitched together from 28 images sent to Earth. The images have been processed to emphasize the highlights.

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