MAVEN Captures Martian Clouds Forming Day By Day
published during a waning gibbous moon.


Cloud Montage: Images taken between July 9 and July 10 2016 clearly show clouds developing above Mars, particularly around its volcanic peaks. In these pictures, the left side of the planet is in morning, the right side is in afternoon. Credits: NASA/MAVEN/University of Colorado

Sure, there are a lot of differences between the Earth and Mars; one’s blue, the other’s red, one is ruled by humans, the other is populated entirely by human-created robots, but there are similarities too.

New images taken by NASA’s orbiting Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission show that one of those similarities might be cloud formation.


A UV Image Of Mars: The dark spot at the top is Olympus Mons, with a cloud cover at its peak. Credits: NASA/MAVEN/University of Colorado

Using an ultraviolet imaging system on the MAVEN spacecraft, researchers were able to watch as clouds formed in the thin Martian atmosphere. Scientists have known that Mars has clouds for a while now, but now, using the technology on MAVEN they were able to watch as clouds formed around some of the Red Planet’s giant, ancient volcanos.

They found that clouds tend to form around those peaks in the afternoon, just like clouds form in the afternoon around some mountains here on Earth. Wind, carrying traces of water vapor bumps into the mountains over the course of the day, and the moisture laden air can form clouds as the day wears on if the wind patterns and other atmospheric factors are just right.

By looking at the images, the researchers also noticed that Mars’ ozone layer at the poles fluctuates seasonally, similar to our ozone layer here on Earth. The mission also found that the Martian sky glows very faintly at night, a phenomenon called nightglow that had previously only been hypothesized to exist on Mars, and hadn’t been observed until now.


Ozone on Mars: In this ultraviolet image, ozone around the poles is magenta, while the Martian poles themselves, covered in dry ice (frozen carbon dioxide) are whitish. Credits: NASA/MAVEN/University of Colorado

“MAVEN obtained hundreds of such images in recent months, giving some of the best high-resolution ultraviolet coverage of Mars ever obtained,” said Nick Schneider of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado, Boulder.