Watch Curiosity Rover's parachute flap in the Martian wind

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The GIF featured here comprises seven photographs of the Curiosity Rover's parachute on the surface of Mars. Photographed from orbit between August 2012 and January 2013 by the Agency's HiRISE camera, it shows the massive (and it is massive) chute moving from month-to-month, presumably due to gusts of wind.

Writes HiRISE Principle Investigator Alfred McEwen:

Sometime between September 8, 2012 and November 30, 2012, there was a major change in which the parachute extension to the southeast (lower right) was moved inward, so the parachute covers a smaller area. In the same time interval some of the dark ejecta around the backshell brightened, perhaps from deposition of airborne dust.

Another change happened between December 16, 2012 and January 13, 2013, when the parachute shifted a bit to the southeast. This type of motion may kick off dust and keep parachutes on the surface bright, to help explain why the parachute from Viking 1 (landed in 1976) remains detectable.


Planetary scientists do, in fact, study wind on Mars and other planets, though they typically do it by observing things like the movement of sand dunes – not parachutes. What this GIF of a shifting chute reveals is how photographing the same region of the planet's surface from month to month allows you to track changes at that location over time.