NASA’s Curiosity Rover captures clouds directly above it
Feb 18, 2022
NASA’s Curiosity rover captures stunning footage of the Martian sky with clouds of carbon dioxide ice passing by overhead
NASA’s Curiosity rover has captured mesmerising footage of the Martian clouds
Rather than being made of water the clouds are composed of carbon dioxide ice
This is because of how high they are on Mars, nearly 50 miles above the surface
Captured by Curiosity on the 3,325th Martian day, or sol, of the rover’s mission
Mesmerising footage of the Martian sky showing clouds drifting overhead has been captured by NASA’s Curiosity rover.
But rather than being made of water like on Earth, these are composed of carbon dioxide ice because of how high they are on the Red Planet.
Martian clouds are very faint in the atmosphere, so special imaging techniques are needed to see them and produce footage like these two eight-second clips.
They were made using images taken by Curiosity on the 3,325th Martian day, or sol, of the rover’s mission, on December 12, 2021.
In one clip, shadows from the clouds can be seen drifting across the terrain, while the other captures the clouds in the sky directly above Curiosity.
Scientists can calculate how fast the clouds are moving and how high they are in the sky by comparing the two perspectives.
The clouds are very high, nearly 50 miles (80 km) above the surface.
As it is extremely cold at that height, NASA said they are likely to be made of carbon dioxide ice as opposed to water ice clouds, which are typically found at lower altitude.
To be able to see the faint Martian clouds, multiple images are taken 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, the US space agency said.
The Curiosity mission is led by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which is managed by Caltech in Pasadena, California.
Curiosity landed on Mars on August 6, 2012, and since has been roaming around Gale Crater collecting and analysing rock samples, relaying the data back to Earth.
Last month scientists revealed that carbon discovered in Martian sediments by the rover had three plausible origins — including being a chemical trace of ancient microscopic life.
That was the conclusion of Pennsylvania State-led experts, who said the carbon may also have come from cosmic dust or the ultraviolet breakdown of carbon dioxide.
The bacterial theory involves methane, produced by microorganisms living underground, being broken down by ultraviolet radiation on reaching the surface.
All three of these scenarios, the researchers explained, are ‘unconventional’, in that they are quite ‘unlike processes common on Earth.’
Curiosity is not the newest rover on Mars — that honour belongs to Perseverance, which arrived with NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter in February this year and is searching for ancient microbial life on the Red Planet.
The Mars Curiosity rover was initially launched from Cape Canaveral, an American Air Force station in Florida on November 26, 2011.
After embarking on a 350 million mile (560 million km) journey, the £1.8 billion ($2.5 billion) research vehicle touched down only 1.5 miles (2.4 km) away from the earmarked landing spot.
The car-sized rover was initially intended to be a two-year mission to gather information to help answer if the planet could support life, has liquid water, study the climate and the geology of Mars.
Due to its success, the mission has been extended indefinitely and has now been active for over 3,000 days.