Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Blue Sunsets

Mars sunsets are blue:
A 6-image mosaic taken by Curiosity on sol 587 (April 1, 2014) of the sun setting behind the tall western rim of Gale crater.
I was reading about this phenomenon in Green Mars, where Sax, the "disinterested scientist", ponders the effects that the thickening atmosphere on Mars is having on the color of the sky. The short answer is that it all depends on Rayleigh scattering (the elastic scattering of light by particles much smaller than the wavelength of the light). Essentially, the martian atmosphere contains a lot of very small specks of rocks and minerals ("fines") which, combined with the different chemical makeup of the atmosphere, diffuse light differently. Here's another, undoubtedly better, explanation.

One of the fascinating things about KSR's Mars trilogy is how the details how the human colonization of Mars would change things. For example, finishing his research, Sax "...concluded that if the atmosphere was thickened to one bar, then the sky would probably turn milk white." p. 162 Now that would make for an interesting sight!

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