Watch Clouds Drift Across Mars Sky

Posted: Aug 12 2017, 12:29am CDT | by , Updated: Aug 12 2017, 12:38am CDT, in News | Latest Science News

Watch Clouds Drifting Across Mars Sky
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/York University

Curiosity rover captures the clearest view yet of Martian clouds

NASA’s Curiosity rover captures wispy clouds moving across Martian sky. These are the clearest ever views of Mars clouds taken by the NASA's most advanced rover which has recently completed its five years on Martian exploration and is continuing its traverse on planet’s surface.

The footage is created by stitching together several images. Researchers used Curiosity rover’s Navigation Camera (Navcam) to take two sets of eight images of sky on July 17th Martian morning. For one set of images, the camera was facing straight up at the sky while the other set was focused on southern horizon. These images were later processed to enhance details or to make things visible for the human eye, thus offering a clearer look at the cloud movement. Rover camera did not observe any clouds later in the day.

Mars is the planet that is most similar to Earth in many ways including landscape, history of water, soil and even seasons and rotational patterns. Clouds are also a common feature on Mars. But unlike the Earth, where clouds are found around the entire globe, on Mars, clouds appear in the equatorial region. This may be because poles of Mars are only place where water ice has been detected.

“In previous Martian years, a belt of clouds has appeared near the equator around the time Mars was at its farthest from the Sun. The new images of clouds were taken about two months before that farthest point in the orbit, relatively early in the season for the appearance of this cloud belt.” NASA said in a statement.

Curiosity rover is obtaining interesting images of Mars' cloud cover over the past few years. Studying clouds on Mars can not only help researchers understand their composition but also provide more insight into processes that have shaped the planet's atmosphere through time.

"It is likely that the clouds are composed of crystals of water ice that condense out onto dust grains where it is cold in the atmosphere," said Curiosity science-team member John Moores from York University. "The wisps are created as those crystals fall and evaporate in patterns known as 'fall streaks' or 'mare's tails.' While the rover does not have a way to ascertain the altitude of these clouds, on Earth such clouds form at high altitude."

Curiosity rover landed on Mars in August 2012. The rover has already accomplished one of its primary mission goals by confirming that environments conditions of Mars were once capable of supporting microbial life. Curiosity is now studying how Mars changed from wet to a harsher, drier place.

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