NASA’s Curiosity Rover captures images of clouds on Mars as described in its blog post: “wispy puffs filled with ice crystals that scattered light from the setting sun, some of them shimmering with colour.”
According to NASA, clouds are rare in Mars’ thin atmosphere but usually form in its equatorial region during the coldest time of the year. Scientists noticed that last year – two years before as the Earth time- clouds began to form there earlier than expected, so this year they were ready.
Not only are the images stunning, but they have also provided new insights to NASA’s Curiosity team. At first, the clouds are longer than most Martian clouds – usually about 37 miles above the planet’s surface and consist of water ice. High-altitude clouds are probably made up of frozen carbon dioxide or dry ice, NASA said.
Curiosity provided both black-and-white and colour images – black-and-white images show the isolated details of the clouds more clearly.
However, it is a colour picture taken from the rover’s mast camera and stitched together from multiple images, which are really breathtaking. NASA describes them:
Seen just after sunset, their ice crystals capture the fading light, causing them to appear glowing towards the darkened sky. These twilight clouds, “noctilucent” (known as “night glow” in Latin), become brighter as they fill with crystals, then the position of the sun in the sky becomes darker as it descends below their height. This is just an effective clue that they use to determine how high they are.
Curiosity also captured the image of the “mother of pearl” cloud with the pastel colour of the whole colour. Mark Lemmon, an atmospheric scientist at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado, said in a NASA post that these colours are almost identical in size to cloud particles. He also explained, “That’s usually happening just after the clouds have formed and have all grown at the same rate,”
Lemmon said he was amazed at the colours displayed in these clouds; Red and green, blues and purple. “It’s really cool to see something shining with lots of colour on Mars.”