Sunrises and sunsets on Mars may be a little less spectacular than here on Earth, but hey, there are sunrise and sunset photos from another world! NASA spacecraft have been watching the sun go up and down on the red planet for more than 40 years. The latest views, from the InSight lander, whose primary mission is actually to study what’s beneath the surface, were just released.
“It’s been a tradition for Mars missions to capture sunrises and sunsets,” said Justin Maki, imaging lead on InSight’s science team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “With many of our primary imaging tasks complete, we decided to capture the sunrise and sunset as seen from another world.”
From faraway Mars, the sun is about two-thirds as big as it looks from your backyard. Because Mars has only a wisp of an atmosphere — about 1 percent of what we have—there’s typically less color in the sky and fewer, thinner clouds (Mars does have clouds, however, and they’re sometimes blue or pink).
There’s quite a bit of variety in the Martian sky, however.
The morning and evening sky can be reddish, and now and then some blue sneaks in near the sun, as in the 1997 Pathfinder image below. “The dust in the atmosphere absorbs blue light, giving the sky its red color, but it also scatters some of the blue light into the area just around the sun because of its size,” NASA explained.
Twilight images aren’t taken just for kicks. They can help scientists look for dust or ice clouds and gauge how high the dust extends into the thin air. Dust storms sometimes engulf the entire planet, and understanding them could be vital to any future human missions.
Looking way back, the first Martian sunset was seen in 1976, thanks to the Viking 1 lander. The low angle of the sun cast the rocks in sharp relief, and the image helped scientists see things by virtue of the shadows that they hadn’t spotted in other images.
Viking 1’s landmark image was followed by a sunrise shot two years later from its sister, Viking 2.
On Earth, the colors of sunrise and sunset are governed by the same basic principles, but the results are quite different, because our atmosphere is so much thicker. Blue light, because of its short wavelength, is scattered by our atmosphere, making the sky blue. Light of longer wavelengths, especially red and orange, pass through most of the atmosphere to your eyes. At sunrise and sunset, even more of the blue is scattered, and you see what’s left: mostly red, orange and yellow.
If you’re planning to go to Mars, enjoy the incredible terrestrial light show while you’re still here. You can learn more about how it works here: