NASA’s Curiosity Rover Captures Shining Clouds on Mars

From NASA

May 28, 2021

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover captured these clouds just after sunset on March 19, 2021

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover captured these clouds just after sunset on March 19, 2021, the 3,063rd Martian day, or sol, of the rover’s mission. The image is made up of 21 individual images stitched together and color corrected so that the scene appears as it would to the human eye. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The science team is studying the clouds, which arrived earlier and formed higher than expected, to learn more about the Red Planet.

Cloudy days are rare in the thin, dry atmosphere of Mars. Clouds are typically found at the planet’s equator in the coldest time of year, when Mars is the farthest from the Sun in its oval-shaped orbit. But one full Martian year ago – two Earth years – scientists noticed clouds forming over NASA’s Curiosity rover earlier than expected.

This year, they were ready to start documenting these “early” clouds from the moment they first appeared in late January. What resulted are images of wispy puffs filled with ice crystals that scattered light from the setting Sun, some of them shimmering with color. More than just spectacular displays, such images help scientists understand how clouds form on Mars and why these recent ones are different.

This GIF shows clouds drifting over Mount Sharp on Mars, as viewed by NASA’s Curiosity rover on March 19, 2021, the 3,063rd Martian day, or sol, of the mission. Each frame of the scene was stitched together from six individual images.

This GIF shows clouds drifting over Mount Sharp on Mars, as viewed by NASA’s Curiosity rover on March 19, 2021, the 3,063rd Martian day, or sol, of the mission. Each frame of the scene was stitched together from six individual images.Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

In fact, Curiosity’s team has already made one new discovery: The early-arrival clouds are actually at higher altitudes than is typical. Most Martian clouds hover no more than about 37 miles (60 kilometers) in the sky and are composed of water ice. But the clouds Curiosity has imaged are at a higher altitude, where it’s very cold, indicating that they are likely made of frozen carbon dioxide, or dry ice. Scientists look for subtle clues to establish a cloud’s altitude, and it will take more analysis to say for sure which of Curiosity’s recent images show water-ice clouds and which show dry-ice ones.

Using the navigation cameras on its mast, NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover took these images of clouds just after sunset on March 31, 2021, the 3,075th so, or Martian day, of the mission.

Using the navigation cameras on its mast, NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover took these images of clouds just after sunset on March 31, 2021, the 3,075th sol, or Martian day, of the mission.Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The fine, rippling structures of these clouds are easier to see with images from Curiosity’s black-and-white navigation cameras. But it’s the color images from the rover’s Mast Camera, or Mastcam, that really shine – literally. Viewed just after sunset, their ice crystals catch the fading light, causing them to appear to glow against the darkening sky. These twilight clouds, also known as “noctilucent” (Latin for “night shining”) clouds, grow brighter as they fill with crystals, then darken after the Sun’s position in the sky drops below their altitude. This is just one useful clue scientists use to determine how high they are.

Using the navigation cameras on its mast, NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover took these images of clouds just after sunset on March 28, 2021, the 3,072nd sol, or Martian day, of the mission.

Using the navigation cameras on its mast, NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover took these images of clouds just after sunset on March 28, 2021, the 3,072nd sol, or Martian day, of the mission.Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Even more stunning are iridescent, or “mother of pearl” clouds. “If you see a cloud with a shimmery pastel set of colors in it, that’s because the cloud particles are all nearly identical in size,” said Mark Lemmon, an atmospheric scientist with the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado. “That’s usually happening just after the clouds have formed and have all grown at the same rate.”

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover spotted these iridescent, or “mother of pearl,” clouds on March 5, 2021

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover spotted these iridescent, or “mother of pearl,” clouds on March 5, 2021, the 3,048th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. Seen here are five frames stitched together from a much wider panorama taken by the rover’s Mast Camera, or Mastcam.Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

These clouds are among the more colorful things on the Red Planet, he added. If you were skygazing next to Curiosity, you could see the colors with the naked eye, although they’d be faint.

“I always marvel at the colors that show up: reds and greens and blues and purples,” Lemmon said. “It’s really cool to see something shining with lots of color on Mars.”

For more about Curiosity, visit:

https://mars.nasa.gov/msl/

For more about NASA’s Mars program, visit:

https://mars.nasa.gov

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May 30, 2021 2:36 am

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover took these images of clouds just after sunset on March 28, 2021, the 3,072nd sol,

So the clouds are travelling west, tracking with the sunset terminator.

mcswelll
Reply to  Philip Mulholland
May 30, 2021 8:14 am

Is it that, or are they forming near the terminator, and dissipating at night? Or are they maybe just lit up against a darker sky at sunset?

Reply to  mcswelll
May 30, 2021 12:09 pm

Watch the sequence, notice how their position alters against the dark foreground silhouette. They retain their structural integrity and are clearly tracking west at high altitude

Vuk
May 30, 2021 2:37 am

My advice to NASA and the USA in general, leave Mars to Elon Musk and concentrate on matters slightly closer at home. Recently reported in media:

“China launched a cargo spacecraft with equipment for its future space station in orbit around the Earth on Saturday, state media reported. It will take a dozen equipment launches to build the space station, called “Tiangong” (Heavenly Palace).
The station should be fully operational as early as next year, 2022, and is expected to remain in low Earth orbit for 15 years”

” Russia is ready to start building its own space station with the aim of launching it into orbit by 2030 if President Vladimir Putin gives the go-ahead, the head of the Russian Roscosmos space agency said on Wednesday.
The project would mark a new chapter for Russian space exploration and an end to more than two decades of close cooperation with the United States aboard the ageing International Space Station (ISS).”

Is the USA being left behind with only partial use of the old creaking ISS?
Need to start working on its own space station (asap!) these things take years to get set-up and fully operational.

Last edited 25 days ago by Vuk
Ron Long
Reply to  Vuk
May 30, 2021 3:48 am

President Trump created the SPACE FORCE for exactly the reason you are hinting at, Vuk. Others are militarizing space while the USA dithers around. You cold militarize space and not start a war, unless you have bad intentions, as China and Russia do.

Ron Long
Reply to  Ron Long
May 30, 2021 3:50 am

You’re both idiots, because this report is about Climate Change on Mars. Just saying.

Climate believer
Reply to  Ron Long
May 30, 2021 4:52 am

 “…scientists noticed clouds forming over NASA’s Curiosity rover earlier than expected.”

I’m presuming it’s cause is anthropogenic.

Scissor
Reply to  Climate believer
May 30, 2021 5:16 am

Apparently it hasn’t risen to the level of crisis yet, however.

Trying to Play Nice
Reply to  Climate believer
May 30, 2021 9:27 am

Where’s the obligatory quote from Mikey Mann about how we are destroying Mars.

Vuk
Reply to  Ron Long
May 30, 2021 5:50 am

Hi Ron, No idea if we idiots or not, someone gave you a – so I’ll give you a + just in case you are correct on either of two points you made i.e. idiots & climate change since they go well together

Ron Long
Reply to  Vuk
May 30, 2021 10:27 am

Thanks for the +, Vuk. My tendency for introspection is getting out of control, who knows where this will end?

commieBob
Reply to  Ron Long
May 30, 2021 5:55 am

That was also my reaction.

I did a web search for climate change on Mars but didn’t quickly come up with anything but I do seem to remember a previous WUWT story on that topic.

There is this WUWT story about climate change on Venus. The driver seems to be the sun.

So, there’s apparent climate change on other planets, perhaps driven by the sun. There’s historical climate change on the earth. It seems to me that climate change should be the null hypothesis.

Robert A. Taylor
Reply to  commieBob
May 31, 2021 3:58 pm

Haven’t done a search, but I remember comments here about Mars and other planets warming in coordination with Earth.

gbaikie
Reply to  Ron Long
May 30, 2021 4:01 am

NASA will land SpaceX’s lunar starship with crew on south pole of the Moon.
Landing in land of shadows, looking for lunar water.
Bring back lunar samples. And I am curious about density of Lunar atmosphere in
the dark craters.
Lunar atmosphere generally being thinner than the Earth’s atmosphere where ISS flies.

Warren
May 30, 2021 4:07 am

Textbook reference material in the making. Mars but don’t trip over the dead bodies or filth or rust and neglect at your front door. From just liveable to truly unlivable. Simply brilliant!

Thomas Gasloli
May 30, 2021 4:15 am

How long before some one misinterprets these “clouds” as being proof of water on Mars😃

M Courtney
Reply to  Thomas Gasloli
May 30, 2021 7:14 am

These thin clouds could be called ‘Martian Sky Canals’.

Press Corps missed a trick there.

GregK
Reply to  Thomas Gasloli
May 30, 2021 11:55 pm

Clouds aren’t needed to provide proof of water on Mars…

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-02751-1
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Water_on_Mars
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Korolev_(Martian_crater)

The problem is that it wont pour very easily.
So no problem acquiring ice for your whisky but keeping your whisky liquid will be difficult.

May 30, 2021 4:44 am

Oh no…CO2 on Mars so it was obviously Martian global warming that killed them all!
However, encouragingly this is yet another sign of fuel for Musk’s Starship Raptors when he gets there…hopefully in my lifetime (but he better hurry up!).

Reply to  Alastair Brickell
May 30, 2021 9:41 am

“when he gets there”….meaning Musk? Don’t worry…Musk is not going anywhere.

Hal McCombs
Reply to  Anti_griff
May 30, 2021 5:04 pm

Of course not. No weed on Mars.

Duane
May 30, 2021 6:57 am

Very cool imagery! I didn’t realize that Mars had any clouds at all given its thin atmosphere and dry surface.

It’s like being in the red rock country of the Four Corners area and looking at high “ice” clouds.

Mike
May 30, 2021 7:58 am

That looks like Utah.

Coach Springer
May 30, 2021 8:02 am

Colors? Adjusted to appear as it would to the human eye?

Michael S. Kelly
May 31, 2021 9:32 pm

This is rather remarkable, given that the clouds are comprised of ice crystals – on a planet long thought to be water-free. Mars has always intrigued me, and this makes it all the more intriguing. Thanks for the post.

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