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Curiosity rover spots colorful, sparkling clouds on Mars

CNN –  The Curiosity rover spied colorful shining clouds on Mars as it trekked the planet’s terrain.

While color usually presents itself in shades of red in the frozen desert, the skies above the rover appeared to almost sparkle.

Unlike Earth, Mars doesn’t have many overcast, cloudy days. The red planet has a thin, dry atmosphere, so clouds tend to appear in the skies over the Martian equator when the planet is cold and farthest from the sun in its oval-shaped orbit every two Earth years, CNN reported.

One Martian year ago [two Earth years], Curiosity spotted clouds that arrived earlier and formed higher in the atmosphere than expected. In case the clouds ever formed again. the rover’s human team sent instructions for it to look for early clouds in late January.

Curiosity’s camera captured images of the feathered clouds, which are filled with ice crystals. The ice crystals shimmer because they scatter sunlight. The images are enabling scientists to study more about cloud formation on Mars.

These clouds that arrive earlier form at a higher, colder altitude, so they’re essentially made of dry ice (frozen carbon dioxide). Scientists are still studying them to figure out why this happens, CNN reported.

“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, in a statement. “That’s usually happening just after the clouds have formed and have all grown at the same rate.

“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.”

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