NASA's Curiosity rover captures footage of the Martian sky with clouds of carbon dioxide ice

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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. 

Mesmerising footage of the Martian sky showing clouds drifting overhead has been captured by NASA's Curiosity rover

Mesmerising footage of the Martian sky showing clouds drifting overhead has been captured by NASA’s Curiosity rover

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

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

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

MARS: THE BASICS

Mars is the fourth planet from the sun, with a ‘near-dead’ dusty, cold, desert world with a very thin atmosphere. 

Mars is also a dynamic planet with seasons, polar ice caps, canyons, extinct volcanoes, and evidence that it was even more active in the past. 

It is one of the most explored planets in the solar system and the only planet humans have sent rovers to explore.

One day on Mars takes a little over 24 hours and a year is 687 Earth days.

Facts and Figures 

Orbital period: 687 days

Surface area: 144.8 million km²

Distance from Sun: 227.9 million km

Gravity: 3.721 m/s²

Radius: 3,389.5 km

Moons: Phobos, Deimos

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.’

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 (pictured)

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 (pictured)

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 nearly 50 miles (80km) above the surface

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 nearly 50 miles (80km) above the surface

Carbon discovered in Martian sediments by NASA's Curiosity rover (pictured) has three plausible origins — including being a chemical trace of ancient microscopic life

Carbon discovered in Martian sediments by NASA’s Curiosity rover (pictured) has three plausible origins — including being a chemical trace of ancient microscopic life

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.

THE NASA MARS CURIOSITY ROVER LAUNCHED IN 2011 AND HAS IMPROVED OUR UNDERSTANDING OF 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.

After a successful landing on August 6th, 2012, the rover has travelled about 11 miles (18 km). 

It launched on the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) spacecraft and the rover constituted 23 per cent of the mass of the total mission. 

With 80 kg (180 lb) of scientific instruments on board, the rover weighs a total of 899 kg (1,982 lb) and is powered by a plutonium fuel source. 

The rover is 2.9 metres (9.5 ft) long by 2.7 metres (8.9 ft) wide by 2.2 metres (7.2 ft) in height. 

The Mars curiosity 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 an has since been active for more than 2,000  days

The Mars curiosity 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 an has since been active for more than 2,000  days

The 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 2,000 days.

The rover has several scientific instruments on board, including the mastcam which consists of two cameras and can take high-resolution images and videos in real colour. 

So far on the journey of the car-sized robot it has encountered an ancient streambed where liquid water used to flow, not long after it also discovered that billions of years ago, a nearby area known as Yellowknife Bay was part of a lake that could have supported microbial life.

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