Perseverance rover snaps gorgeous shots of drifting predawn clouds on Mars (photos)

timelapse image of the sun peeking through clouds on mars with a lower, drifting cloud at right
NASA's Perseverance Mars rover imaged drifting Red Planet clouds on March 18, 2023, the 738th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

At least one interplanetary weather report dropped on World Meteorological Day.

NASA's Perseverance rover imaged drifting predawn clouds on the Red Planet recently, taking a brief break from its ongoing search for signs of ancient Mars life. Mars is a dry and dusty planet, but billions of years ago water likely pooled and flowed in many areas on its surface, providing a potential life-friendly spot for microbes.

The new cloud images, released by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory today (March 23), were taken with one of the rover's navigation cameras just before Martian sunrise on March 18. That was the 738th Martian day, or sol, of Perseverance's mission; a sol is just a little longer (24 hours, 37 minutes) than a day on Earth.

Related: How NASA will launch Mars samples off the Red Planet

The brief NASA release describing the clouds had no further information about what exactly is being studied. 

Last year, however, NASA initiated a citizen science project probing Martian clouds, which are made up of carbon dioxide, also known as dry ice. Studying the clouds provides a window into conditions in the planet's middle atmosphere, at roughly 30 to 50 miles (50 to 80 kilometers) in altitude, officials said at the time.

Perseverance recently arrived at a new area nicknamed "Berea," where it is just about to further scrutinize an intriguing layered rock, mission officials tweeted yesterday (March 22). More generally, Perseverance and a little helicopter called Ingenuity are exploring an ancient river delta in Jezero Crater that may have hosted ancient life. Ingenuity will likely reach 50 flights, 10 times its original manifest, in the coming days or weeks.

Related: Fly over Perseverance rover's Mars stomping grounds in new video

Perseverance is also gathering samples for future return to Earth, a campaign that's a joint effort of NASA and the European Space Agency. That campaign's formulation is still being determined, however. The baseline plan released last year called for Perseverance to carry its samples over to a rocket-toting lander, which is scheduled to launch toward Mars in 2028.  If the rover is unable to do that, two small helicopters aboard the lander will pick up the lightsaber-shaped sample tubes that Perseverance has placed on the surface as a backup plan.

But now NASA's Science Mission Directorate is considering changes to reduce the cost, such as having only a single helicopter fly aboard the lander in 2028, according to a livestreamed town hall meeting held earlier today that addressed NASA fiscal 2024 budget negotiations that are ongoing.

On our own planet, World Meteorological Day is celebrated annually on March 23 to commemorate the founding of the World Meteorological Organization on that day in 1950. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently warned once again of dire consequences if humans ignore the perils of global warming.

Elizabeth Howell is the co-author of "Why Am I Taller?" (ECW Press, 2022; with Canadian astronaut Dave Williams), a book about space medicine. Follow her on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: