spaceSpace and Physics

NASA's Curiosity Rover Snaps Incredible Sunset Image On Mars


Jonathan O'Callaghan

Senior Staff Writer

Curiosity snapped the image on November 20, 2017. NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Okay, we're used to seeing some rather stunning photos from the surface of Mars, right? Well, this latest photo from NASA's Curiosity rover is blindingly awesome. Like, seriously.

As you can see above, the image shows the moment that the Sun was seen hidden behind a raised area of some sort on Mars. It was spotted by user Pluto_and_Charon on Reddit. A spokesperson for NASA told IFLScience it was taken at sunset, about 17:39 local time on Mars, and it's looking towards the west-northwest. The image was planned, so it wasn't just a fluke or anything.


Aside from just being, you know, stupendously awesome, it highlights a few interesting things. First, a Martian sunset is kind of the opposite of one on Earth. On our planet, the day sky is blue and the night sky is red, as sunlight passes through more of our atmosphere and refracts more towards the red end of the spectrum.

On Mars, the colors are reversed, so the day sky is red and the night sky is blue. This is because dust is responsible for scattering light on Mars, not gases like in our atmosphere.

Curiosity took this latest image using its left Mastcam instrument. This is one of four cameras on the rover, used to image the surface and objects of scientific interest.

On some occasions, however, the cameras are used to take images of public interest, like this one. Curiosity has taken a snap of a sunset before, back in 2015 for example, when it witnessed a stunning blue-tinged sky with the Sun dipping behind a mountain.

Curiosity's previous sunset image in 2015. NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

"The colors come from the fact that the very fine dust is the right size so that blue light penetrates the atmosphere slightly more efficiently," said Curiosity science-team member Mark Lemmon in a statement back then.

"When the blue light scatters off the dust, it stays closer to the direction of the Sun than light of other colors does. The rest of the sky is yellow to orange, as yellow and red light scatter all over the sky instead of being absorbed or staying close to the Sun."

Curiosity also saw a solar eclipse from the surface of Mars in 2013, when the Martian moon Phobos passed in front of the Sun.

This sunset, though, is really quite impressive. Curiosity landed in August 2012 and is still going strong, making its way up Mount Sharp at the center of Gale Crater where it landed. Who knows what fascinating sights it'll return next.

The eclipse seen by curiosity in 2013. NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems/Texas A&M Univ


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