Real rainbow planet

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NASA Releases Breathtaking Rover Photo of “Rainbow” on Mars

Update 4/6/2021: NASA got back to us with an explanation for the image — we’ve updated the post below, and you can also read our new story about the agency’s explanation right here.

There shouldn’t be any rainbows on Mars. To get rainbows on Earth, you need both sunlight and raindrops in the sky. The thin Martian atmosphere, however, is far dryer than Earth’s, to say the least.

That’s why a new image taken by NASA’s Perseverance rover is particularly fascinating. The rover’s Hazard Avoidance Camera picked up what appears to be a perfect rainbow above the Red Planet’s arid surface.

Given the lack of rain in the Martian atmosphere, it’s clearly not a rainbow — at least, that is, the way we experience them back on Earth.

So what was it? Armchair meteorologists online are suggesting that it may be a “dustbow,” or reflections caused by dust instead of water droplets.

Another possibility is that the “bow” didn’t actually ever appear in the sky, instead showing up as a refraction caused by lens elements of Perseverance’s Hazcam.

In other words, the “rainbow” we see in the image may simply be the result of a “lens flare,” an artifacts caused by stray rays of light entering the imaging mechanism and scattering inside the lens.

In this case, NASA said after we ran this story, the lens flare explanation appears to be correct. The agency tells us that the apparent rainbow is indeed an artifact caused by the Hazcam’s lens.

Rainbow-like artifacts on Mars may still be possible, though. A 2015 “Ask Me Anything” with NASA team members from the agency’s Jet Propulsion Lab raises another possibility. In it, NASA Mars Program Office Chief Scientist Rich Zurek suggested that “icebows” could appear over the Martian horizon in a response to a question about the possibility of rainbows on Mars. These “icebows” were previously observed during NASA’s Pathfinder mission in the late 1990s, according to the AMA. The spacecraft photographed several clouds above the Martian sky thought to be caused by ice particles.

Similar phenomena could show up on other planets as well. According to a BBC Science Focus blog post by radio astronomer Alastair Gunn, other planets including Saturn’s moon Titan could feature “rainbows” as well. Titan has enough liquid methane droplets in its atmosphere to form rain — but a severe lack of direct sunlight would make such “methane bows” extremely unlikely, according to Gunn’s analysis.

On Venus, droplets of sulfuric acid in the planet’s atmosphere can cause “glories,” a bull’s-eye patterns as photographed by the European Space Agency’s Venus Express in 2011.

More on Perseverance: Perseverance Drops Off Ingenuity Helicopter On Martian Surface

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On Venus, Rainbow-Like 'Glory' Seen for 1st Time (Photos)

Scientists have captured shimmering rainbow colors above Venus for the first time using a European spacecraft currently orbiting the cloud-covered planet.

The new Venus photos mark the first time that a rainbow-like "glory" has been photographed on another world besides the Earth, officials with the European Space Agency (ESA) announced this month. The phenomenon also pointed to a mystery in the hothouse planet's atmosphere, they added.

ESA's Venus Express spacecraft captured a 746-mile (1,200 kilometer) glory on Feb. 24, 2011 that happened when the sun shone on sulfuric acid droplets atop the atmosphere. The phenomenon was spotted about 43 miles (70 kilometers) above Venus' surface after researchers took pictures of the clouds with the sun directly behind the spacecraft.

Glories and rainbows both arise from reflected sunlight, but behave differently. Rainbows arch across vast distances, while glories are more concentrated and have colored rings converging on a shiny center.

"Glories are only seen when the observer is situated directly between the sun and the cloud particles that are reflecting sunlight," ESA officials wrote in a statement. "On Earth, they are often seen from airplanes, surrounding the shadow of the aircraft on the clouds below, or around the shadow of climbers atop misty mountain peaks."

Conditions for glories best occur among spherical cloud particles (implying they are liquid droplets) that are about the same size. On Earth, glories occur with water droplets, which are about 10 thousandths to 40 thousandths of a millimeter across. The sulfuric acid droplets high in Venus' atmosphere are much smaller — just 2 thousandths of a millimeter across — making the rings tighter from an observer's perspective than on Earth.

What surprised researchers was how variable the brightness was within the rings. Scientists believe there must be more than sulfuric acid and water droplets in Venus' atmosphere.

"One idea is that the cause is the 'UV-absorber', an unknown atmospheric component responsible for mysterious dark markings seen in the cloud tops of Venus at ultraviolet wavelengths," ESA officials explained. "More investigation is needed to draw a firm conclusion."

The research was published in the Feb. 13 edition of Icarus. It was led by Wojtek Markiewicz of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Germany.

Follow Elizabeth Howell @howellspace, or @Spacedotcom. We're also on Facebook and Google+.Original article on

Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at: [email protected]

Elizabeth Howell is a contributing writer for who is one of the few Canadian journalists to report regularly on space exploration. She is pursuing a Ph.D. part-time in aerospace sciences (University of North Dakota) after completing an M.Sc. (space studies) at the same institution. She also holds a bachelor of journalism degree from Carleton University. Besides writing, Elizabeth teaches communications at the university and community college level. To see her latest projects, follow Elizabeth on Twitter at @HowellSpace.
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Mercury: Rainbow planet

This false-colour image of Mercury was made using data collected by NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft, which was designed to study the planet’s surface and its very thin atmosphere. To learn more about the minerals and surface processes on the planet, the orbiter diligently collected spectral surface measurements after arriving  on 17 March 2011. 

These measurements were combined into a map showing the spectral properties of both broad terrains and small, distinct features such as pyroclastic vents and fresh craters can be studied. To accentuate the geological context of the spectral measurements, the MASCS data have been overlaid on a high-resolution monochrome mosaic of the planet’s surface to map the rugged landforms and spectral variations on Mercury’s surface. 

MESSENGER was the first spacecraft to orbit the planet Mercury. Its mission ended in late April 2015 when it ran out of propellant and spiralled in to the surface of Mercury.

Related reading: Surface of Mercury formed within the planet

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Space Rainbow Planet - India Speech

See rainbow-colored images from Mercury

New images from NASA's MESSENGER space craft map out Mercury's terrain in a colorful way.

If Mars is the red planet, Mercury could take the title for 'rainbow planet,' according to new images released by NASA.

The pictures were taken by the space probe MESSENGER, short for — Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry, and Ranging.

Mercury doesn't always look this flashy.

The planet is usually an inky color, but the images from NASA are mapped out in psychedelic colors to give space enthusiasts everywhere a chance to clearly see the planet's surface.

The rainbow-colored appearance in the pictures can be explained by a system that captures spectral data about the planet's surface and exosphere.

That data was overlain onto a monochrome mosaic, and an instrument was able to map rugged landforms and craters on the planet's surface in an array of colors, according to a statement from NASA.

The spacecraft is the first to orbit Mercury. It started to orbit in March 2011. The craft has taken more than 250,000 images.

More than a decade after its launch, MESSENGER could crash into Mercury's surface any day. NASA predicted MESSENGER will crash into the planet nearest the sunApril 30 at more than 8,700 mph.

NASA has been tweeting from the MESSENGER account about the final leg of its life, and by all means it has "been a wonderful and exciting trip."

Follow @MaryBowerman on Twitter.

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Planet real rainbow

Nasa explains strange ‘rainbow’ that appeared on picture from Mars Perseverance rover

Nasa have explained an image from the Perseverancerover that appeared to show a rainbow stretching across the red planet’s sky.

The image appeared strangely akin to one that might be taken from Earth: a rainbow rising from the ground and ascending up into the air, contrasted against the harsh yellow of the rest of the image.

But a real rainbow is impossible on Mars, as the planet does not have the processes that create such a phenomenon on Earth.

Instead, the sight was explained by something much closer to home, at least for the Perseverance rover that took it: a lens flare as the sun hit the rover’s cameras.

The new image is one of many already sent back from Perseverance since it arrived on the planet earlier this year.

Read more:

“Many have asked: Is that a rainbow on Mars? No,” the space agency said in a post on the official Perseverance Twitter account.

“Rainbows aren’t possible here. Rainbows are created by light reflected off of round water droplets, but there isn’t enough water here to condense, and it’s too cold for liquid water in the atmosphere. This arc is a lens flare.”

It went on to explain that the colours were the result of a flare that came from the cameras that are mounted on the rover, and took the image in the first place.

“I have sunshades on my front Hazcams, which were considered mission-critical (I need them for driving forward & I’m usually driving forward),” the official Twitter account posted. “Sunshades weren’t considered essential on my back Hazcams, so you can see scattered light artifacts in their images.”

The uncanny nature of the Martian surface – which often appears unusually similar to our own world, but at the same time undeniably alien – has led people to see a number of things that aren’t actually there.

People often spot what appear to be things like faces and even coffins on the surface of the red planet, and those sightings are often seized upon by conspiracy theorists who suggest they are proof that Nasa – or somebody else – is hiding the truth of what is happening on Mars. But the unusual artefacts are instead the result of a phenomenon called “pareidolia”, where people see significant objects or patterns in things that don’t actually have them.

Space Rainbow Planet - India Speech

New images of Mercury show the planet as we've never seen it before: in a psychedelic profusion of colours. The images don't show how Mercury looks in the visible light spectrum. Rather, they are composites, composed of years of data collated by the Mercury Atmosphere and Surface Composition Spectrometer instrument aboard NASA's Messenger spacecraft and have provided researchers with new insights about Mercury.

The spacecraft, which has been in orbit around the planet for four years, is due to be retired on Thursday -- by crashing into Mercury's surface at a speed of more than 8,750 miles per hour (3.91 kilometres per second). This will be done on the side closest to Earth so that NASA researchers can observe the impact in real time and receive data from the probe as it descends.

Ever since the probe entered Mercury's orbit in 2011, it has been diligently collecting measurements of the surface of the planet, in hundreds of different wavelengths of light, from ultraviolet through to near-infrared. These wavelengths and combinations of wavelengths were then mapped into red, green and blue colours.

You can probably make out a little bit of what they show, which was the purpose of colour-coding the wavelengths in the first place. Some show the mineral composition of the surface; while others show the age of craters, or volcanic vents. This allows these relatively small features to be studied much more easily.


Key findings include compelling support for the hypothesis that ice is abundant on Mercury in its permanently shadowed polar craters in found 2012, with data indicating that the ice would be two miles thick and spread over an area the size of Washington.

Another discovery was a dark layer over those ice deposits, thought to be rich in organic compounds. Researchers hypothesise that the ice and the organic compounds came to Mercury from the outer solar system.

"The water now stored in ice deposits in the permanently shadowed floors of impact craters at Mercury's poles most likely was the impacts of comets and volatile-rich asteroids," said Messenger principal investigator Sean Solomon, director of Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, N.Y. "Those same impacts also likely delivered the dark organic material."


Other contributions made by the Messenger mission include technological firsts such as the development of a heat-resistant and highly reflective ceramic cloth sunshade to protect the probe's instruments from solar radiation and temperatures in excess of 300 degrees Celsius (570 degrees Fahrenheit).

"For the first time in history we now have real knowledge about the planet Mercury that shows it to be a fascinating world," said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

"While spacecraft operations will end, we are celebrating Messenger as more than a successful mission. It's the beginning of a longer journey to analyse the data that reveals all the scientific mysteries of Mercury."


Similar news:

Are there rainbows on other planets?

Asked by: Peter Alexander, Altrincham

The ingredients required to make a rainbow are sunlight and raindrops. Currently, there is no other planet known to have liquid water on its surface or in sufficient quantities in the atmosphere to make rain. However, other liquid droplets could refract sunlight and spread it out into its component colours, just as water droplets do on Earth.

On Saturn’s moon Titan, for example, the atmosphere is rich in liquid methane droplets that almost certainly form rain. Titan’s atmosphere is extremely hazy, meaning that direct sunlight is probably uncommon, but there is still a chance that methane rainbows could form. If they do exist, they would look very similar to terrestrial rainbows, but would be somewhat broader due to the different refractive index of methane compared to water.

Another similar phenomenon, called a ‘glory’, occurs on Venus (pictured) and is caused by droplets of sulphuric acid that are present in the planet’s atmosphere.

Subscribe to BBC Focus magazine for fascinating new Q&As every month and follow @sciencefocusQA on Twitter for your daily dose of fun science facts.


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