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Watch the Sunset from Mars

Opportunity rover helps capture a hauntingly blue view of nightfall on the Red Planet

This image of a Martian sunset was captured in 2005. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Michael Benson/Kinetikon Pictures/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

This week, NASA showed us Earthlings just what a Martian sunset looks like:

The short video is a simulation created from still images taken on the surface of Mars by Opportunity rover’s panoramic camera in 2010. To smooth out the action, NASA added simulated frames and enhanced images. An earlier version was released in a 2012 YouTube video.

That beautiful blue glow is due to a “combination of dust particles and atmospheric conditions on Mars,” explained Mark Lemmon, an associate professor of atmospheric sciences and one of Opportunity’s camera operators.

"The blue color comes from the way Mars' dust scatters light. The blue light is scattered less, and so it stays near the sun in the sky, while red and green are all over the sky. On Earth, blue light is scattered all over by gas molecules, but there are not enough of these on Mars, which has less than 1 percent of Earth's atmosphere, to accomplish this."

NASA studies Martian sunsets in part to better understand the planet’s atmosphere. Shots of the sun’s descent can capture, for example, evidence of clouds of dust or ice, and they help show just how high into the air the planetary dust can travel.

According to CBC News, indigo, Mars-like sunsets do rarely occur on Earth—when volcanic eruptions blow dust high into the atmosphere. But we’re all probably better off just settling for NASA’s strangely soothing Vine, instead.

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