Curiosity has been roaming the landscape of Mars for two years, as of August 15, 2014, and is discovering magnificent secrets within Mars’ ecosystem. Aside for the rock and mineral samples it is collecting, photos have become a staple of the means in which Curiosity documents the landscape. A recent tweet by the Curiosity crew foretold of a mission that would have the rover on the lookout for Martian clouds.
“Head for the hills! I’m driving towards these hills on Mars to do geology work & also search for clouds.”
Amazingly, Curiosity not only found Martian clouds in the atmosphere, but also took video of their movement.
The discovery of the clouds has some suggesting that life on Mars, whether past or present, is inevitable. However, Dr. Robert M. Haberle, a scientist with the Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS), is less worried about potential life forms and more interested in weather patterns on Mars. The Martian clouds can assist in providing that information.
“Clouds are part of the planet’s climate system. Their behavior tells us about winds and temperatures.Some studies suggest that clouds in the past may have significantly warmed the planet through a greenhouse effect. A warmer environment is more conducive to life.”
Haberle went on to point out that rain from the Martian clouds are most likely not responsible for the shaping of the planet.
“[W]inds are the primary mechanism for shaping the planet’s surface for the past 3-4 billion years.”
The Martian clouds are composed of ice crystals, with a possibility of super cooled water droplets intermixed within. The images and video that were captured by Curiosity are a truly amazing example of the similarities between Earth and Mars, as well as the differences. It has been determined that microbial life may have a chance of surviving on Mars, although none has been found alive. If the clouds that are present, in their sparseness, were created from moisture upon the barren planet, it is wondered if more moisture is contained within and what would happen if that moisture evaporated to create a sky full of clouds.
As Curiosity continues its exploration in the second year of its life, one has to wonder what new discoveries will be found during its journey and whether questions will be answered, or if those discoveries will present new questions which will be pondered for many years to come. We can only hope that Curiosity will continue to look upward and capture other atmospheric occurrences that continue to surprise us.
[Photo Courtesy: Phys]