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Space and PhysicsAstronomy

Watch Clouds Whizz By On Mars In Intense New Curiosity Footage

author

Katy Evans

Managing Editor

clockFeb 18 2022, 15:26 UTC

Oh to be rover on another world lifting its head to the sky. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/York University

It may be Perseverance's one-year "Landiversary" today, but not to be outdone, the Curiosity Mars rover has released some incredible footage of clouds scudding by on the Red Planet – perhaps to remind people it was there first. 

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The two incredible GIFs released by NASA reveal two different perspectives, one showing the clouds above the sparse Martian landscape and the other capturing clouds whizzing directly over Curiosty, which helps scientists back home get a better understanding of what is going on.

"Scientists can calculate how fast the clouds are moving – and how high they are in the sky – by comparing the two perspectives," the agency explained on its Mars science blog

clouds on mars
Clouds in the Martian sky captured by Curiosity on December 12, 2021. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/York University

"These clouds are very high, nearly 50 miles (80 kilometers) above the surface. It’s extremely cold at that height, which suggests these clouds are composed of carbon dioxide ice as opposed to water ice clouds, which are typically found at lower altitude," experts at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said. 

The digitally enhanced images were taken on December 12, 2021, on Curiosity's 3,325th sol, or Martian day.

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The first GIF reveals the shadows of the clouds on the ground as they drift past. It's one way to detect clouds on Mars. Due to the planet's thin atmosphere, clouds are very faint to see, so specialized imaging techniques are needed. 

"Multiple images are taken to be able to get a clear, static background. That allows anything else moving within the image (like clouds or shadows) to become visible after subtracting this static background from each individual image," NASA explained.  

clouds on mars
Clouds flying by above Curiosity's head. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/York University

Curiosity has been exploring Gale Crater since 2012, its main mission to determine whether there has ever been microbial life on Mars – though there's nothing wrong with a bit of sky watching now and then. In fact, Curiosty has supplied us with most of what we know about clouds on Mars

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Due to its thin, dry atmosphere, clouds don’t often form on the Red Planet, so for Curiosity to capture any at all is a win for science.

Mars's robotic population has grown in recent years to three rovers and one lander – Curiosity, Perseverance, Zhurong, and Insight, respectively – so it's understandable if there's a little healthy competition between these many-wheeled scientists.

It's a win all around for us back on Earth, as we get closer to unraveling the mysteries of our rocky neighbor and attempt to answer the ultimate question: has there ever been, or could there ever be, life on Mars?


Space and PhysicsAstronomy
  • space,

  • Mars,

  • Curiosity,

  • Astronomy

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