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Mars Curiosity rover snaps dreamy images of drifting Martian clouds

NASA’s Perseverance rover may be grabbing all the headlines just now, but the space agency’s other active rover, Curiosity, continues to explore the red planet after arriving there almost a decade ago.

Like Perseverance, Curiosity’s initial mission length was set at two years, but NASA later decided to extend it indefinitely. Since then, the rover has stayed busy, investigating various Martian mysteries, examining rocks, climbing slopes, and even snapping selfies.

Its latest treat for space fans came a few days ago when it beamed back some incredible images of Martian clouds.

Bobak Ferdowsi, who works at the California-based Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) that’s overseeing both the Curiosity and Perseverance rover missions, shared some of the images on Twitter.

“I cannot get over these Martian cloud photos from MarsCuriosity this week,” Ferdowsi wrote. “Can you imagine watching clouds drift by on Mars?”

I cannot get over these Martian cloud photos from @MarsCuriosity this week. Can you imagine watching clouds drift by on Mars?
????: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

— Bobak Ferdowsi (@tweetsoutloud) March 6, 2021

The thin, wispy clouds on Mars confirm the existence of water in the red planet’s atmosphere, though scientists say it’s at a level around 1/1000th of Earth’s, and no rain ever falls.

The idea that Mars experiences weather systems surprises many people. It goes beyond just clouds, too, as evidenced by this extraordinary image of a dust devil occurring on the planet, captured by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter as it passed overhead around 180 miles up.

Our Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter often catches nature in action. Here, its HiRISE camera captures a whirlwind, often called a dust devil, traversing dunes. Details:

— NASA Mars (@NASAMars) March 6, 2021

You may be interested to know that there’s even an account on Twitter offering updates on Mars’ weather that pulls its data from special instruments on the Curiosity rover and NASA’s InSight lander. Curiosity takes daily weather measurements from its location in Gale Crater in the southern hemisphere of Mars, near the planet’s equator.

Sol 3048 (2021-03-03), high -14C/7F, low -73C/-99F, pressure at 8.30 hPa, daylight 06:35-18:31

— Mars Weather (@MarsWxReport) March 6, 2021

Also, Mars, like Earth, has four seasons, with white caps of water ice and carbon dioxide ice shrinking and growing through summer and winter at the poles.

“Evidence of climatic cycles exists, as water ice is formed in layers with dust between them,” the National Weather Service says on its website. “In addition, features near the south pole may have been produced by glaciers which are no longer present.”

It adds: “In general, Mars has highly variable weather and is often cloudy.  The planet swings from being warm and dusty to cloudy and cold.  Mars long ago was likely a warmer, wetter planet with a thicker atmosphere, able to sustain oceans or seas.”

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Trevor Mogg
Contributing Editor
Not so many moons ago, Trevor moved from one tea-loving island nation that drives on the left (Britain) to another (Japan)…
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