Curiosity snaps fast-moving clouds in the Martian sky

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Even robots exploring other planets need to take some time to unwind and just watch the clouds for a while. The Curiosity rover, which just last week celebrated its fifth anniversary on the Red Planet, has now sent back some of the clearest photos yet taken of extraterrestrial clouds.

The slideshows are made up of two sets of eight images, taken early in the morning of July 17. For the first set, the camera was pointed directly above the rover, while the second set of snaps captured the sky above the southern horizon.

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To get the resulting level of clarity in the movement of the clouds, the images were enhanced by Curiosity’s science team at York University. By generating an “average” of the light across all the frames of each group, and then subtracting the average from each individual frame, the changes in movement from one shot to the next could be emphasized.

Clouds may be an everyday occurrence here on Earth, but due to the elliptical orbit of Mars they’re much more seasonal, forming a belt around the equator when the planet is at its furthest point from the Sun. Their presence two months before that happens means this is relatively early for the appearance of the cloud belt.

“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,” says John Moores, a scientist on the Curiosity team. “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.”

Check out the movement of the clouds in the video below.

Source: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

View gallery – 4 images

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