(CNN) The Curiosity rover has sent back a stunning postcard capturing a dazzling sunset on Mars.

The NASA rover has been roaming the surface of Mars for more than 10 years, searching for answers to why the Red Planet went from warm and wet to a frozen desert. It discovered interesting rock formations, searched for signs of life and scaled Mount Sharp at the center of Gale Crater.

But instead of continuing to focus on the almost-endless red stretch of rock and dirt beneath its wheels, the rover has recently been exploring.

On February 2, Curiosity saw rays of sunlight stretch across the horizon and illuminate a bank of clouds as the sun set on Mars. These first rays, known as crepuscular rays, are seen so clearly on the Red Planet.

The rover is conducting a survey of twilight clouds on Mars to follow up on previous observations of bright nighttime clouds. In 2021, Curiosity will use its black-and-white navigation camera to observe the formation of those clouds as it passes by Mars.

Clouds provide deep insight into weather patterns and conditions. Scientists can use information about when and where clouds form on Mars to learn more about the planet’s atmospheric composition and temperature, as well as wind.

The new survey, which began in January and will end later this month, uses the rover’s color camera on its mast to watch cloud particles grow.

On Mars, most clouds are made of frozen ice and float about 37 miles (60 kilometers) above the ground. But Curiosity has seen clouds that reach higher altitudes, as seen in the new photo, leading researchers to believe they are made of frozen carbon dioxide ice — or dry ice. Scientists are still studying them to figure out why this happens.

The Curiosity rover captured this feather-shaped iridescent cloud just after sunset on January 27.

Curiosity captured a separate image on January 27 of a bright, sharp cloud that resembles a feather.

“Where we see invisibility, it means that a cloud’s particle size in each part of the cloud is identical to its neighbors,” said Mark Lemmon, an atmospheric scientist at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado. “By looking at the color change, we can see the particle size change throughout the cloud. This tells us how the cloud is evolving and how its particles are changing shape over time.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *