January 21, 2022

Sols 3364-3366: Back at the Prow

Written by Abigail Fraeman, Planetary Geologist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory
NASA's Mars rover Curiosity acquired this image using its Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), located on the turret at the end of the rover's robotic arm, on January 20, 2022, Sol 3362.

NASA's Mars rover Curiosity acquired this image using its Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), located on the turret at the end of the rover's robotic arm, on January 20, 2022, Sol 3362. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS. Download image ›

On Wednesday we collected our first MAHLI images of the outcrops we’ve been studying the last few sols, and then drove back to the Prow to give us another chance to investigate the fascinating sedimentary structures we see preserved in this region. This morning we were pleased to find the rover was parked within a short bump distance to the Prow outcrop, exactly where we’d hoped to start the day.

Sol 3363: Front Hazard Avoidance Camera
This image was taken by Front Hazard Avoidance Camera (Front Hazcam) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3363. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

In today’s plan, we’ll collect lots of remote sensing data of the Prow from our standoff location. We’re taking two ChemCam RMI mosaics of the area on targets named “Kangurama” and “Kaietur,” as well as ChemCam LIBS observations of the upper portion of the Prow on a target named “Alegre” and a nearby rock named “Formoso.” Additionally, APXS and MAHLI will examine a layered rock at the rover’s feet named “Mazaruni,” and Mastcam will collect several mosaics of the area.

Today in planning, I served as the Surface Properties Scientist, so I put my geologist hat on and worked closely with the Rover Planners as they designed a precision bump to place Curiosity within arm’s reach of our favorite spot on the Prow. There are lots of little rocks and some sand in the area, so it was a fun challenge to pick a parking location that will allow us to place MAHLI very close to the face of the Prow while also avoiding parking the rover on unstable rocks. Never a dull day on Mars!

January 20, 2022

Sols 3362-3363: Sedimentologist's Delight

Written by Lauren Edgar, Planetary Geologist at USGS Astrogeology Science Center
This image was taken by Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3361.

This image was taken by Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3361. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL. Download image ›

After a few sols of challenges that prevented us from getting close-up MAHLI imaging of this dark outcrop in front of us, today we were finally able to plan the contact science that we were hoping for. Yesterday there was a small rock under the right rear rover wheel, so we had to kick that rock to the curb to get into a stable position for using the rover arm. This morning’s downlink data confirmed that we had cleared the rock and we are good to go with a fantastic set of contact science activities (as a sedimentologist I am drooling over some of these beautiful structures throughout this area).

Today’s two-sol plan is focused on contact science on the first sol and a drive on the second sol. The plan starts with several Mastcam mosaics to document sedimentary structures and their spatial relationships, as well as the processes responsible for carving this landscape. Then we’ll get a ChemCam LIBS observation on “Kako” to investigate the chemistry of nearby nodular bedrock, followed by a long-distance RMI mosaic to investigate the stratigraphy exposed in the “Mirador” butte. After that, we’ll put the arm to work. We’ll acquire a MAHLI “dogs eye” mosaic of the target “Caroni” in which the camera will get an edge-on perspective of the exposed laminae, and a set of images that coincide with the APXS targets “Coati” and “Morok.” All of these contact science targets are intended to understand the grain size, sedimentary structures, and composition of the dark outcrop in front of us. Previously we acquired some remote sensing observations of this outcrop (including the beautiful laminae seen in the above ChemCam RMI image), but we’re excited to get this detailed information from MAHLI and APXS. After the evening APXS integrations, the rover will go to sleep, and wake up the next morning for more science. The ENV theme group planned a suite of observations to characterize atmospheric dust and search for dust devils. Then Curiosity will drive back along this dark outcrop to another interesting location to setup for more contact science in the weekend plan. Looking forward to a great set of data from this location!

January 18, 2022

Sol 3361: Keeping the Dog Leashed

Written by Scott Guzewich, Atmospheric Scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
This image was taken by Mast Camera (Mastcam) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3359.

This image was taken by Mast Camera (Mastcam) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3359. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS. Download image ›

Our initial plan today was to conduct a MAHLI “dog’s eye” imaging sequence on the beautiful Panari outcrop that we are parked before. During a dog’s eye sequence, the rover’s arm walks the MAHLI camera along a feature near ground level, just how your martian canine (obviously named “Rover”) would see it. But, we had to move that to tomorrow’s plan due to a couple issues that need resolving first.

Instead, we planned a bevy of remote sensing science with ChemCam, Mastcam, and Navcam. ChemCam will target “Arabopo” (near the upper right in this Mastcam image) for LIBS and Mastcam will image the entire area around it. Both ChemCam and Mastcam will also take additional images near the workspace on other bedrock blocks and also image “Mirador,” the prominent peak directly ahead of us. ENV will monitor the decay of an early season martian dust storm with a Navcam dust devil movie and Mastcam tau observation.

January 14, 2022

Sols 3357-3360: Edging Closer and Closer to Panari

Written by Catherine O'Connell-Cooper, Planetary Geologist at University of New Brunswick
This image was taken by Left Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3356.

This image was taken by Left Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3356. Credit:s NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

We continue to document rocks similar to what we saw at "The Prow," a dark appearing rock outcrop with amazing sedimentary structures and details. To do this, we need to get as close as possible to an outcrop surface but that has called for some short multi-plan drives, as we manoeuvre to a new feature called "Panari" (a length of roughly 20 metres away from The Prow). In our last plan, we edged towards the inclined rock in the front right corner of the image, ending on some flatter rock a safe distance back. This end of drive allows the Rover Planners to vet the inclined rock, finding the optimal location to place us for up close contact science after a short “bump” or drive (less than 3 metres in total) on the third sol of this plan.

First however, GEO has a lot of work to do! First we will document the flatlying rock underneath us. The target “Chimata” in front of the rover will be brushed to clear the dust and then analyzed by both APXS and Mastcam. This material is a somewhat paler colour than The Prow and the inclined rocks at Panari, so we are investigating to see if the tonal differences are reflected in the composition. ChemCam will use the LIBS instrument to target two smaller targets (“Mataui” and “Kamarang”) and the Mastcam targets “Auyan” and “Uei” look at sand movement overlying fractures and along the side of flatlying bedrock. ChemCam will also target the inclined block with LIBS (“Apparam”) and its imaging tool (RMI) (target “Karwai”), whilst Mastcam will image a similar block “Quino” a bit further in the distance.

ENV also have a busy plan, with multiple monitoring activities, looking at changing dust levels in the atmosphere, and a full day of REMS only activities on the last day of this crammed four sol plan!

January 12, 2022

Sols 3355-2256: Closer to the Prow

Written by Ken Herkenhoff, Planetary Geologist at USGS Astrogeology Science Center
This image was taken by Front Hazard Avoidance Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3354.

This image was taken by Front Hazard Avoidance Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3354. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

The "bump" planned on Sol 3354 to move the rover closer to "The Prow" outcrop was successful, placing the front wheels very close to the base of the outcrop. From this new position, the arm can reach the top of the outcrop, so APXS will be placed on a couple of upper outcrop targets named "Angasima" and "Kamuda" on Sol 3355. Unfortunately, MAHLI had an issue reading data from their memory a couple sols ago, so MAHLI imaging is precluded while engineers take a closer look at MAHLI. Instead, the Right Mastcam will image the APXS target to allow the chemical measurement to be placed in geologic context. ChemCam will also sample the elemental chemistry of the outcrop at "Cerro la Luna" and use its RMI to acquire a high-resolution 5x2 mosaic of a bedrock exposure called "Paso de las Lagrimas." Mastcam is also planning a stereo mosaic of the outcrop and will acquire mosaics of the next drive target and the Mirador butte toward the south. Navcam and Mastcam will be used to characterize the amount of dust in the atmosphere, which has increased lately, and Navcam will search for dust devils.

Before dawn on Sol 3356, Navcam will search for clouds. Later that morning, Navcam will again look at the content of dust in the atmosphere and search for dust devils, then watch for clouds just above the horizon. Then ChemCam will fire its laser at the "Quebrada de Jaspe" target on the right side of the outcrop and acquire an RMI mosaic of another bedrock target dubbed "Vale dos Cristais." The Right Mastcam will then document both of the ChemCam targets and the APXS targets. Mastcam will then take two stereo mosaics, extending coverage of The Prow, and Navcam will again look for clouds above the horizon. The rover will then pack up and drive toward the east, stopping along the way to image interesting outcrops using Navcam and Mastcam. After the drive and the usual post-drive imaging, MARDI will take another twilight image. Overall, a busy plan, which make for an interesting and sometimes hectic day for me as SOWG Chair!

January 11, 2022

Sol 3354: Tantalizingly Out of Reach

Written by Ashley Stroupe, Mission Operations Engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory
This image was taken by Left Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3353.

This image was taken by Left Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3353. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

Today Curiosity is doing a little bit of everything: some contact science, some targeted science, and a little driving. When we started planning this morning, we had a beautiful view of the small ledge in front of us, named “The Prow,” which shows some amazing layering. We also can see some disturbances in the sand that may be sliding caused by our approach.

We, the rover planners, were busy today despite the plan looking deceptively simple. The face of “the Prow” itself is just a bit out of reach, so instead we are doing some APXS integrations on a small loose rock target called, “Ilu,” which is also visible in the sand in the bottom of the image. Rocks this small can be a little tricky because there is some uncertainty when we place the arm, though we have developed a lot of techniques that help us to get it right.

The science team was also busy today. Once the APXS is complete and the arm is safely stowed again, we have a long set of targeted science observations with Mastcam, ChemCam, and Navcam. We are taking a large mosaic (including extensive stereo) of The Prow as well as imaging Ilu. We are using ChemCam LIBS to examine “Tramen,” and RMI to image “Contigo,” which are both on The Prow near our expected next contact science area. ChemCam is also doing RMI imaging of “Mirador,” which is a butte about 15m south. We are also continuing to monitor the increasing dust in the atmosphere with Navcam observations of the horizon and a Mastcam solar tau.

The drive today is going to move us closer to The Prow so that we can do contact science on it in the next plan. While the drive is only a little over a meter, it is also a bit tricky. The Rover Planners needed to test out different potential parking spots to find the best place from which to place the arm, which took some iteration. We will have to get very close to the ledge to be in the best spot to place the arm, but we also need to be careful to not get too close and let the wheels start climbing over the ledge. We are creeping up on it in small steps, each time the rover will check how far away it is in order to choose the next step.

January 10, 2022

Sol 3353: Raise the (Martian) Roof

Written by Michelle Minitti, Planetary Geologist at Framework
This image was taken by Right Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3352.

This image was taken by Right Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3352. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

On the second sol of the weekend plan, Curiosity took an unexpected break, stopping arm motion on the way to deploying MAHLI to image the wheels for their regular check up. As such, her arm is jutted up in the air, a bit of which you can see in the above image, and it (and the rest of the rover) stayed there the rest of the weekend. The science and engineering teams very much care that Curiosity is waving her hand in the air, and quickly set about recovering the arm so we could complete wheel imaging and our drive to "The Prow."

Before take two of wheel imaging and the drive, we took the opportunity to gather more data from the interesting bedrock and structures on this area. ChemCam will shoot "Sucre," a horizon filled with resistant nodules, to see if the nodules belie a chemistry change. ChemCam will then acquire RMI mosaics of two different parts of The Prow, "Ptari" and "Panari," to give us more insight into the structure we are heading toward. Mastcam will support ChemCam by imaging Sucre and another target from the weekend, a dark, flat resistant feature, that was targeted by ChemCam autonomously. Mastcam will keep additionally busy with stereo mosaics of "Indio" and "Mutum," both areas with prominent layering that might help reveal the orientation of the bedrock, and a single image of "Maverick Rock," which earned its name from the complex mix of bedrock that appears present within.

Throughout the plan, we monitor the environment below and above us with DAN passive and active, regular REMS and RAD, a Mastcam image to keep tabs on the amount of dust in the atmosphere, and a Navcam images to look for dust devils and clouds.

We expect that when we return for planning tomorrow that we will have all these science goodies in the bag, as well as new wheel images and a new parking spot by The Prow. Stay tuned!

January 7, 2022

Sol 3350-3352: A Rock Under the Wheel

Written by Susanne Schwenzer, Planetary Geologist at The Open University
It nicely shows the rocks at the current parking position, and the veins criss-crossing them.

This image was taken by Left Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3349. It nicely shows the rocks at the current parking position, and the veins criss-crossing them. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

We are back into our planning routine after the Christmas break. In fact, today was the third plan in the new year, and the third plan that Curiosity executes within the Roraima quadrant my colleague introduced a few days ago. While we are getting used to new sounds of our names, we are marvelling at the landscape in front of us, which is very diverse, both in the rover workspace and in the walls around us. It’s a feast for our stratigraphers (those who research the succession in which rocks were deposited and deduce the geologic history of the area from this). We are all looking forward to the story they will piece together when they’ve had a bit of time to think!

Planning is all about getting the data, and here are three new sols to do so. Unfortunately, the diversity of the landscape means one of the rover wheels is parked right on top of a rock, and that’s not a safe situation for the use of the arm. This is because the rover could shift if the rock suddenly moved or broke under the wheel while the arm is out and close to a target. The engineers are working diligently to keep all our instruments safe, so they called a weekend with no contact science. It happens occasionally, and except for that little rock squeezed under the rover wheel, all is happy and safe on Mars and on Earth. The team quickly turned to the instruments that do not need arm use to add a few more of those observations. It’s all about getting all the data we can at this interesting location.

So, here is what’s in the plan: True to the fact that the walls around us have a lot of interesting layers and features, we have two large Mastcam mosaics, target ‘Maringama’ and ‘Prow,’ to get higher resolution colour images for assessment by our stratigraphers (and all others, too, of course). ChemCam also looks at the sedimentological structures in the walls at even higher resolution doing two long distance imaging investigations on target ‘Mirador’ and ‘Ptari.’ But, of course, there also is a desire for understanding the chemistry, and therefore ChemCam has two LIBS investigations on the targets ‘Araopan’ and ‘Arai,’ which Mastcam will also document with an image each, and an AEGIS observation after the drive. Mineralogy will be investigated through a Mastcam multispectral observation on the target ‘Indio.’

Curiosity has a few other items on her to-do list over the weekend. CheMin is investigating a sample we drilled a while back and that has been kept in the sample cell since: Zechstein. If you now wonder when and where Zechstein was, look here. There is a drive and a routine MARDI image afterwards. DAN looks for water and chlorite in the subsurface, and it’s time for MAHLI wheel imaging, for which the rover will bump slightly to get off the rock and then start its cadence to look at all the wheels. Of course, the weather will be observed through temperature, pressure and atmospheric imaging observations, which include a dust devil movie. Looks like Curiosity has a busy weekend ahead, while I get to put my feet up on my sofa and stare out the window watching the rain that’s in the weather forecast here in England.

January 5, 2022

Sol 3349: Ridges, Big and Small

Written by Lucy Thompson, Planetary Geologist at University of New Brunswick
This image was taken by Left Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3347.

Navcam right image showing the drive direction and the dark, low resistant ridge that we are driving towards in this plan. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

Another successful drive on Mars resulted in a dusty bedrock workspace with nodules and small raised ridges in front of the rover. Curiosity also has a view towards larger scale, dark, resistant ridges that we have noticed within the more subdued and lighter coloured, more typical bedrock in this area.

The science team decided to investigate the chemistry and texture of one of the small, raised ridges in the workspace (“El Fosso”) with APXS and MAHLI. Is the ridge there because of the presence of a harder, more resistant mineral that might have formed as fluid flowed through the rock? Determining the chemistry of the feature could help to figure out why the ridge is there. To complement this observation, the bedrock target “Kamarkawarai” will be analyzed with ChemCam LIBS and imaged with Mastcam.

Looking further afield, Curiosity will image one of the larger scale, dark, resistant ridges with a ChemCam RMI mosaic. The drive planned tosol should take us closer to one of these ridges, which we hope to investigate in future plans. Mastcam will document an area that may have been the site of recent movement of sand around a block (“The Pit”), as well as an area of a butte that may contain cross bedding (“Maringma”).

Our plan was also full of atmospheric and environmental observations, particularly as we are expecting an increase in dust within the atmosphere as a regional storm passes by. We planned Mastcam basic tau, crater rim extinction and sky survey observations as well as a Navcam line of sight observation and suprahorizon movie.

After the drive, we will acquire a DAN active measurement and a MARDI observation to document the terrain beneath the rover. Standard DAN, REMS and RAD activities round out the plan.

As the APXS payload uplink and downlink lead today, I was responsible for reporting on the downlink from the previous plan and uplinking our observation for this plan. I also helped to pick the El Fosso target. Today was one of those planning days when everything went smoothly. It is not always easy to place the APXS and MAHLI instruments (situated on the end of the robotic arm) on the rocks that we want to investigate. We have to ensure the safety of our instruments and the rover. However, tosol our target of interest was relatively easy to place APXS and MAHLI on.

January 3, 2022

Sols 3347-3348: Bem Vindo a Roraima!

Written by Ashley Stroupe, Mission Operations Engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory
This image was taken by Left Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3345.

This image was taken by Left Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3345. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

Tosol, Curiosity woke up in a new mapping quadrant, Roraima. The Roraima quadrant is named after the northern-most state of Brazil and Mount Roraima, which is the highest peak in the Pakaraima mountains which sits between Brazil, Venezuela, and Guyana. The terrain in the Roraima region on Earth looks somewhat similar to the area Curiosity is in – with flat-topped hills and some steep slopes. Curiosity will be heading toward a narrow pass bordered by some small flat-topped mesas worthy of the Roraima name. Looking back, Curiosity can see all the way to the Torridon quadrant and see Mars’ “Scottish highlands” with the attached beautiful view of the Maria Gordon notch; you can also see the rim of Gale crater in the distance.

As we head southward, we will likely be parking near some of these tall hills and cliffs in order to get close-up images. Parking near such tall terrain can sometimes block our view of the orbiters if they are low in the sky, impacting the amount of data we may receive. We saw this kind of an effect when we parked near the tall steep cliff of Maria Gordon notch, where there was a significant reduction of data on one of our communication passes with the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO). We will take this into account to make sure we will still get down the data we need for planning.

On the first sol of today’s plan we are doing a “touch-and-go” which includes some contact science, targeted science, and a drive. Our contact science target, “Verde,” is a small piece of bedrock with nodules in it, similar to many of the other rocks we have investigated recently. The science team will be able to compare its composition with those prior targets to continue to build up a picture of the changing geology and chemistry preserved in the region. The Rover Planners will then leave the arm stowed again in preparation for driving and to leave a clear view of the target for the cameras.

The targeted science in the plan will also investigate the nodules by looking at “Maurak,” another nearby target, with ChemCam and Mastcam. ChemCam is also taking RMI images of a distant butte named “Mirador,” both its top and its face, which has an interesting and significant textural transition.

Once ready to drive away, Curiosity will head about 15m southward. Due to some significant rocks and the uphill climb ahead of us, this is only as far as the Rover Planners can see. Even if that distance, the rover is going to need to wind around to skirt some more significant rocks so that we don’t add damage to the wheels. The drive should leave us parked where we have a better view of the road ahead, as well as leave bedrock within the rover’s workspace for the next plan.

After the drive, Curiosity will do some evening environmental observations, Navcam suprahorizon and zenith movies, to look at the atmosphere. Overnight, the SAM instrument will be doing an engineering maintenance activity to check out the optics on the tunable laser spectrometer (TLS).

On the second sol of the plan, after the drive, Curiosity will do some untargeted science using AEGIS autonomous target selection and observation and a long Navcam dust devil movie.