Martian Dusk: Curiosity Rover Captures Stunning Red Planet Sunset

Mars rover Curiosity sunset
NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity captured this sunset shot on Nov. 19, 2017 (US Eastern Time). (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has treated us to another view of an otherworldly sunset.

The six-wheeled robot snapped the photo on Nov. 19 at 7:07 p.m. EST (5:39 p.m. local Mars time, and 0007 GMT on Nov. 20), as the sun was dipping behind the rim of Gale Crater, said NASA spokesman Guy Webster, from the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

The view is toward the west-northwest, and the 96-mile-wide (154 kilometers) crater's rim forms the horizon, Webster told via email. 

The recent photo is reminiscent of a series of shots that Curiosity captured back in 2015, which showed the sun hanging just above Gale's rim in an oddly blue patch of Martian sky.

"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 science team member Mark Lemmon, of Texas A&M University, said in a statement at the time.

"When the blue light scatters off the dust, it stays closer to the direction of the sun than light of other colors does," he added. "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."

Curiosity has been exploring Gale's interior since August 2012. The 1-ton rover's observations have revealed that the crater harbored a long-lasting lake-and-stream system in the ancient past that could have supported life as we know it. (There is no solid evidence, however, that life has ever existed on the Red Planet.) 

Curiosity is currently climbing through the foothills of Mount Sharp, which rises 3.4 miles (5.5 km) from Gale's center. The rover is reading the rocks for clues that could help scientists better understand how Mars transformed from the relatively warm and wet world it was billions of years ago to the cold and dry planet it is today. 

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Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.