Blueish sunsets are common on Mars. This one, though, is different.
This week, NASA’s Perseverance rover, the size of a car, captured its first view of a Martian sunset. The sunsets behind the hills in Mars’ Jezero Crater, a spot planetary scientists believe was previously filled with water, in low ghostly light.
The space agency explained the muted colors of this sunset on Twitter. When the rover looked up and snapped a photo, there wasn’t much dust in the atmosphere. More blue light wavelengths pass through the dust when there is more dust in the atmosphere (and Mars is a notably dusty desert planet). “Blue light penetrates the atmosphere more readily than colors with longer wavelengths due to fine dust in the atmosphere,” NASA noted.
Take a moment to marvel at this: I captured my first view of a Martian sunset with my Mastcam-Z. It’s easy to be go-go-go all the time, but it’s also important to look up. pic.twitter.com/rMT7ovFwv6
— NASA's Perseverance Mars Rover (@NASAPersevere) November 19, 2021
“This sunset appears to be different because there is less dust in the atmosphere, resulting in a more muted color than usual.”
As it rumbled about the stony Martian terrain, the rover had been too preoccupied to notice the sunset. Perseverance’s main goal is to look for traces of ancient microbial life, which no other rover has discovered. This entails scouring the landscape for fascinating rocks that may contain past traces of life, such as organic components that bacteria may have consumed.
Perseverance has begun gathering rocks as well, in preparation for a future mission to collect and return to Earth. NASA has told the rover to save three rock samples in titanium tubes so far. These alien rocks may one day provide planetary scientists with a solid indication of whether life previously flourished in pools of Martian water, glistening beneath spooky Martian sunsets.
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