NASA Captures Its First Look at 'Sun Rays' on Mars
If Elon Musk had his way, we’d all be moving to Mars. And that doesn’t sound as far-fetched as it did 10 years ago. Since 2011, NASA’s Curiosity rover has been exploring Mars to further our knowledge of the red planet, and the latest discovery by Curiosity brings us one step closer to understanding Mars’ climate.
On February 2, NASA’s Curiosity rover captured its first-ever “sun rays,” or crepuscular rays, peeking through the clouds on Mars. Despite being on Mars for 3,730 sols (Martian days), this was the first time sun rays had been seen from Mars’ complex atmosphere.
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In the photo, it looks like the clouds are hovering more than 60 kilometers above the ground and are likely composed of carbon dioxide ice or dry ice. This is relevant to NASA’s researchers as most Martian clouds are expected to hover below 60 kilometers and tend to be composed of water ice.
Just a few days before the Curiosity captured sun rays in the sky, it captured a feather-shaped iridescent cloud just after sunset on January 27.
According to Mark Lemmon, an atmospheric scientist with the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado, iridescence points to a cloud’s identical particle sizes, but its changing colors point to changing particle sizes. It’s these small details that tell scientists how clouds evolve on Mars.
Every new discovery on Mars is crucial to NASA’s research and our overall knowledge of the solar system. The cloud formations alone can help scientists better understand Mars’ weather patterns and atmosphere composition.
The more we learn, the better prepared we’ll be if we ever visit Mars. After all, it won’t be long before Mars colonies become reality. And before we visit Mars, we’d need to check the weather.