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Clouds seen by Curiosity on Mars. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The clouds on Mars look oddly Earthlike in recently released photos taken by NASA's Curiosity rover.

Why it matters: By studying these Martian clouds from the ground, scientists hope to learn more about how Mars' thin atmosphere works and how it differs from Earth's.

What they found: This year, NASA commanded Curiosity to keep an eye out for early clouds forming in the planet's atmosphere after spotting them earlier than expected on Mars two Earth years ago.

  • When Curiosity did spot early-forming clouds in late January 2021, researchers noticed they were much higher in the atmosphere than typical clouds the rover has seen in the past.
  • These January clouds were "wispy puffs filled with ice crystals that scattered light from the setting Sun, some of them shimmering with color," NASA said in a statement.
  • As researchers continued to study them, they realized the high altitude clouds were made of frozen carbon dioxide, or dry ice, not water ice, which composes the clouds seen by Curiosity at about 37 miles above the surface.

The big picture: Mars is a popular place these days. Three new missions arrived at the Red Planet this year with plans to study the world from above and from the surface.

  • Eventually, NASA hopes to launch a mission to return samples from the planet to Earth in order to study them with cutting-edge tools to learn more about whether Mars once played host to life.

Go deeper

Sep 4, 2021 - Science

The future of the search for life

Photo illustration: Annelise Capossela. Photos: NASA/Getty Images, Boyer/Roger Viollet via Getty Images

New probes to study nearby worlds, advanced telescopes to peer at far away planets, and expanding ideas about the signs of life are fueling a renaissance in the search for life beyond Earth.

Why it matters: It's an age-old question — is life as we know it on Earth unique, or is the universe actually teeming with life?

Updated 4 hours ago - Energy & Environment

Thousands without power as "hazardous" winter storm lashes East Coast

Satellite imagery of the Northeastern U.S. taken by NOAA on Jan. 17. Photo: NOAA

A major winter storm lashed much of the East Coast Sunday and Monday, causing widespread power outages and disrupting travel over the holiday weekend.

The latest: Authorities in North Carolina confirmed that two people died in a car crash and that they responded 600 vehicle accidents during the storm on Sunday, per the Washington Post.

Texas abortion law remains in effect after appeals court ruling

Pro- and anti-abortion protesters outside the Supreme Court as arguments begin about the Texas abortion law on Capitol Hill in November. Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

A U.S. appeals court transferred a challenge to Texas' law banning most abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy to the state supreme court in a 2-1 vote on Monday evening.

Why it matters: The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' decision means the country's most restrictive abortion law can remain in place for the time being.