Martian clouds sail above NASA’s Curiosity rover

Martian clouds.
Martian clouds.

Image: nasa

By Mark Kaufman

While traversing across rocky plains in the shadow of Mount Sharp, the Mars Curiosity rover captured wispy clouds hovering in the sky.

The car-sized robot — which landed on Mars in 2012 — captured these lofty clouds on May 17, 2019, which translates to the 2410th sol, or Martian day, of its mission.

From millions of miles away, NASA scientists suspect these clouds hovered some 19-miles above the red Martian surface. NASA also notes the clouds are “noctilucent,” meaning they’re high enough for sunlight to pass through the floating mass of water and ice. 

Wispy Martian clouds.

Wispy Martian clouds.

Image: nasa

Earlier in May, the rover captured other high-altitude clouds, too, sailing over the nuclear-powered, six-wheeled rover. 

High Martian clouds.

High Martian clouds.

Image: nasa

When the rover isn’t gazing up at the Martian atmosphere, it’s primarily interested in the ground. In May, the rover spent time drilling into soil of particular interest, because it’s rich in clay minerals — and clay forms in water-rich environments. NASA scientists suspect this area (on the lower slope of Mt. Sharp) once supported a watery, Earth-like environment. 

There’s still zero evidence that primitive life ever existed on Mars, or anywhere other than Earth. But life — as we know it, anyway — needs water to survive. 

But Mars certainly has an abundance of Earth-like clouds, sailing high overhead. 

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