Through its many adventures on the surface of Mars, NASA’s Curiosity rover has captured some truly stunning images of our celestial neighbor. Its latest snapshot, however, is one of the most captivating of all. In it, the rover showed off “Sun rays” on Mars for the very first time.
The little rover captured the extraordinary footage on February 6 as the Sun set on the Red Planet. As NASA explained, this marked the first time Sun rays, also known as crepuscular rays (from the Latin word for “twilight”), have been viewed so clearly.
Giving earthlings a glimpse at the striking Martian sunset, NASA posted an image taken by the Mars Curiosity rover on their Twitter account. In the photo, the dreary grey sky is brightened by the Sun’s rays, bursts of green and red light visible through the gloom.
Well, this is a first… 😍— Curiosity Rover (@MarsCuriosity) March 6, 2023
As I watched the sunset last month, I captured something spectacular: My team says these are some of the most clearly visible images of sun rays we’ve ever seen on Mars! pic.twitter.com/HIgzZHdAyV
The incredible image came as part of NASA’s Curiosity rover’s newest mission on Mars – to observe clouds over the Red Planet during its twilight hours. This mission builds on previous observations of Martian clouds at night, known as “noctilucent” or night-shining clouds.
NASA Rover Collects Crucial Information About Weather on Mars
Previously, scientists noted that Martian clouds hover above the surface at an altitude no higher than 37 miles. Meanwhile, twilight clouds defy these rules, floating at a higher altitude, “where it’s especially cold,” NASA said. This suggests the clouds are made of carbon dioxide ice, or dry ice.
Through its study of Martian clouds, the Curiosity rover provides NASA scientists with fascinating information about the weather on Mars. Additionally, it’s collecting crucial information about the composition and temperature of the Red Planet’s atmosphere.
The new research into twilight clouds began in January 2023 and is nearing its end. Through the study, the little rover’s color camera gives scientists a look at how cloud particles grow over time.
“Where we see iridescence, it means a cloud’s particle sizes are identical to their neighbors in each part of the cloud,” Space Science Institute atmospheric scientist Mark Lemmon said in a statement. “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.”
NASA launched Curiosity back in 2011, with the rover landing on Mars in August 2012. Curiosity has roamed the Martian surface ever since. In its journeys, the rover has collected countless pieces of data to determine if the planet can support life. Thus far, it’s not only found evidence of water but carbon, a “key life ingredient.”