NASA’s Curiosity rover on Mars has captured a mesmerizing panorama showing a full Martian day, from dawn to dusk. The black-and-white timelapse provides a unique perspective into 24 hours on the red planet.
Rover Uses Camera to Track Sun Across Martian Sky
The panorama was created using images taken on November 26, 2022 by Curiosity’s Mast Camera (Mastcam) instrument. Over the course of the day, the rover pointed its camera at the sky to track the path of the sun across the horizon. In total, more than 1,200 images were used to create the timelapse.
By combining these images and speeding them up, researchers created a video showing a complete Martian day. Mars has a similar tilt to Earth, so its days have familiar elements like sunrise and sunset. But the specifics are different – a Martian day is 24 hours and 39 minutes. This extra 39 minutes becomes noticeable when sped up into the timelapse video.
“We get to see so much more of a Martian day than we usually do,” said Tilman Spohn, principal investigator of the rover’s weather station instrument. “It’s very cool to see the sun traveling across the sky instead of just seeing a snapshot of overhead light that we usually get.”
Solving Mystery of Martian Winds
One goal of capturing a full Martian day was to study winds on Mars throughout the day. Over the course of the day, winds shift direction as temperatures heat and cool the atmosphere. This can create dust devils and move fine dust around, which affects Mars’ climate.
By watching the movement of dust in the timelapse images, researchers gained insight into daily wind cycles. Pairing the images with data from Curiosity’s Rover Environmental Monitoring Station, scientists are piecing together how Martian winds vary through the day.
“Curiosity was stationary when it captured this – the movement comes from the sun or blowing dust,” said Mark Lemmon, an atmospheric scientist who works on Curiosity data. “Observing it over a full day helps us understand how these processes work over time and over seasons.”
Table Showing Length of Days on Mars vs Earth
|Length of Day
|24 hours, 39 minutes, 35 seconds
The extra 39 minutes in a Martian day may not seem like much. But gaining an understanding of Martian winds and weather requires accounting for even small differences caused by the longer days.
Mesmerizing View Unlike Anything Seen Before
While this isn’t the first full-day timelapse from the Martian surface, it does provide a uniquely crisp and clear view.
“It’s rare that we get to see a timelapse this crisp and uninterrupted,” said Elsa Jensen, an imaging scientist working on the Mastcam instrument. “It’s mesmerizing to see the sun traversing across the empty Martian sky – unlike anything I’ve seen before.”
Much of the uniqueness comes from improvements made to Curiosity’s camera in 2019. Using image processing algorithms, the team enhanced Mastcam’s ability to capture high-resolution, color images even in low light. This enables detailed views of Martian sunrises and sunsets.
What’s Next for Curiosity and Mars Exploration
This Martian day panorama is just the latest in a string of stunning images from NASA’s intrepid Curiosity rover. Since landing in 2012, Curiosity has revolutionized our understanding of Mars through high-resolution imagery, environmental measurements, and rock samples.
Findings from Curiosity and NASA’s four other active Mars missions are helping pave the way for future human exploration. NASA plans to launch a new rover, currently called Mars Ice Mapper, by 2030. The rover will probe ice deposits and prepare samples for retrieval and analysis back on Earth.
The timelapse images of a full Martian day provide just a small glimpse into the red planet. As rovers like Curiosity and future missions explore further, we can expect even more wondrous revelations that challenge our perspectives here on Earth.
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- Curiosity Finds Intriguing Carbon Signatures at Ancient Martian Lakebed
- With Little Fanfare, NASA Cancels Mars Rover Partnership With ESA
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