This week on Mars

In March, Curiosity sent back 21 individual images that show some very high-altitude clouds.

The NASA team has stitched them together to make one big image and has also pieced together some time-lapse images taken from Curiosity’s Mastcam.

Surprisingly, the clouds are shiny!

This GIF shows clouds drifting over Mount Sharp on Mars, as viewed by NASA’s Curiosity rover on 19 March 2021. Each frame of the scene was stitched together from six individual images. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

The clouds were so high up that the carbon dioxide they were made of had frozen. Because the images were taken just after sunset, the carbon dioxide ice crystals caught and reflected the fading light, making them ‘shimmer’ against the sky.

Using the navigation cameras on its mast, Curiosity took these images of clouds just after sunset on 31 March 2021. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Along with the frozen carbon dioxide, this shine helped the team determine that the clouds were higher than expected, because the that gives information about how the crystals formed.

Using the navigation cameras on its mast, Curiosity took these images of clouds just after sunset on 28 March 2021. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

“I always marvel at the colours that show up: reds and greens and blues and purples,” says Mark Lemmon, an atmospheric scientist with the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

 “If you see a cloud with a shimmery pastel set of colours in it, that’s because the cloud particles are all nearly identical in size. That’s usually happening just after the clouds have formed and have all grown at the same rate.

“It’s really cool to see something shining with lots of colour on Mars.”

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Seen here are five frames of clouds stitched together from a much wider panorama taken by the rover’s Mastcam. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

Helicopter mishap

On the 91st day of Perseverance’s Mars mission, Ingenuity took its sixth flight. It had been doing pretty well up to this point.

This time, Ingenuity flew to an altitude of 10 metres, and planned to fly along at a ground speed of four metres per second.

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This image of Mars was taken from the height of 33 feet (10 metres) by NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter during its sixth flight on 22 May 2021. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

For about 150 metres, Ingenuity was flying along smoothly, but then it started to wobble – it tilted back and forth in an oscillating pattern as it began adjusting its velocity.

The onboard sensors indicated that Ingenuity had experienced a few anomalies – spikes in power consumption, large control inputs and roll and pitch excursions of over 20 degrees.

This all happened because Ingenuity uses images to calculate its velocity (speed). A little less than a minute into the flight, a glitch caused a single image to be lost, which meant all the rest of the following images had an incorrect timestamp. Ingenuity got confused and tried to correct its velocity, but this was based on incorrect information, when led to the wobble.

Thankfully, a little bit of error tolerance was built into the copter, and this type of error wasn’t completely unexpected. Ingenuity was able to land safely and can still have another go later.

This sequence of images – taken on 22 May 2021, by the navigation camera aboard Ingenuity – depicts the last 29 seconds of the rotorcraft’s sixth flight. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. 

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Zhurong rolls onto the surface of Mars. Credit: CNSA.

Zhurong drives!

On 22 May 22, China’s Zhurong rover got off the lander it arrived in and took a roll. In placed its wheels on the furce of the Red Plant around 12:40pm AEST, and we got treated to the images.

Zhurong has now started its scientific operations. We look forward to news of its discoveries.

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