Determining Nighttime Atmospheric Optical Depth Using Mars Exploration Rover Images
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Martian clouds and dust play an important part of the radiative transfer and energy balance budget. To assist in fully understanding the impact of clouds and dust, the complete diurnal cycle needs to be characterized. One of the best methods to track diurnal variations on Mars is by measuring optical depth. The spatial and temporal trends of optical depth give insight into the dust and water cycles of the Martian atmosphere. Until now, spacecraft could only obtain optical depth during the day. In this thesis, nighttime images from the Mars Exploration Rover Spirit are used to calculate nighttime optical depth using photometric methods to capture star flux. Bright stars in well-known constellations are used in this analysis. The observed flux was compared to the expected flux to give nighttime optical depth values. The observed nighttime optical depth was consistently similar to the daytime optical depth values on both an individual image and sol-averaged basis. Recommendations are made going forward to use the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity for conducting an optimal nighttime optical depth campaign to fully characterize the diurnal dust and water cycles of Mars. The Curiosity rover is well suited for nighttime imaging and can potentially provide valuable insight into the nighttime dust and cloud trends.
Mars Exploration Rover
Mars Science Laboratory
Bean, Keri Marie (2013). Determining Nighttime Atmospheric Optical Depth Using Mars Exploration Rover Images. Master's thesis, Texas A & M University. Available electronically from