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The Clouds on Mars Are Glowing, And They Look Glorious

The land on Mars might look like a barren wasteland, but its skies are a different story altogether.
IMAGE NASA/JPL-CALTECH
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While hues of red and orange might be the only thing you see for miles on end on Mars, when you look up, it's a maelstrom of glowing lights and clouds.

NASA's Curiosity Rover recently captured rare photos of Mars' fascinating atmosphere while it was populated with clouds filled with ice crystals that make it appear as if the clouds shimmer and glow. In reality, the ice crystals in the clouds are merely reflecting light from the setting sun, but it's still a sight to behold.

Captured by the Curiosity Mars rover just after sunset.

Photo by NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Captured over Mount Sharp on Mars.

Photo by NASA/JPL-Caltech.
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Clouds are rare in this corner of the galaxy. Mars' thin, dry atmosphere isn't the best environment for clouds, making these shots all the more important. NASA first spotted the curious clouds one full Martian year ago, which is about two Earth years, and started documenting them the moment they reappeared again in January.

Most Martian clouds are composed of water ice and hover no higher than 37 miles in the sky, but the clouds spotted by Curiosity are likely made of dry ice, according to NASA's scientists. NASA refers to these clouds are "wispy puffs with ice crystals that scattered light from the setting Sun," making it appear as if the clouds glow. These types of clouds were found to be formed at a much higher altitude than typical on Mars, which is why scientists believe the clouds are made up of frozen carbon dioxide, otherwise known as dry ice.

If that wasn't fascinating enough, Mars also has "mother of pearl" clouds that shimmer in pastel colors.

“If you see a cloud with a shimmery pastel set of colors in it, that’s because the cloud particles are all nearly identical in size,” said Mark Lemmon, an atmospheric scientist with the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado. “That’s usually happening just after the clouds have formed and have all grown at the same rate.”

Mars' "mother of pearl" clouds.

Photo by NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.
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“I always marvel at the colors that show up: reds and greens and blues and purples,” Lemmon said. “It’s really cool to see something shining with lots of color on Mars.”

So different from the simple white fluffy clouds we see every day, Mars' glowing skies are further proof that there's much more to discover in this vast universe.

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Anri Ichimura
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