NASA’s InSight Mars lander sent back stunning photos of a sunrise and sunset taken on the red planet last month.
The space agency said as with colorful sunsets on Earth, Martian sunsets would appear more intense and bluish when watched from the planet’s surface. That’s because Mars’ fine dust makes the blue near the sun’s part of the sky more prominent, NASA said, just as its red soil makes it appear a dusty red color during daylight hours.
“The colors come from the fact that the very fine dust is the right size so that blue light penetrates the atmosphere slightly more efficiently,” Curiosity rover mission team member Mark Lemmon said in a NASA press release.
“When the blue light scatters off the dust, it stays closer to the direction of the sun than light of other colors does. The rest of the sky is yellow to orange, as yellow and red light scatter all over the sky instead of being absorbed or staying close to the sun,” Lemmon said.
The sunrise and sunset photos show a much smaller sun then on Earth.
“Because Mars is farther from the sun than Earth, the sun appears only about two-thirds the size we see when we watch sunsets here on Earth,” NASA said in a statement on the photos.
InSight isn’t the first mission to send back sun shots from Mars. The space agency’s Viking 1 lander sent back the first photo of a sunset on the red planet in 1976. Viking 2 captured a sunrise in 1978 at the spacecraft’s Utopia Planitia landing site.
The Spirit rover captured a famous view of the sun sinking below the rim of Gusev crater on Mars in May of 2005. The striking sunset image shows a color-corrected blue hue that NASA said may preview what human explorers might see one day on Mars.
The Curiosity rover also captured views of sunrises and sunsets in 2015.
The Mars InSight lander arrived at the planet in November. The $850 million mission will study the deep interior of Mars and will help scientists understand the formation and early evolution of, not just Mars, but all rocky planets, including Earth.