September 24, 2021

Sols 3248-3250: Curiosity Crushed It!

Written by Ken Herkenhoff, Planetary Geologist at USGS Astrogeology Science Center
This is a black and white image of the Curiosity rover over the sandy, rocky surface of Mars. Curiosity's arm and tire marks can be seen imprinted in the smooth sand.

The Sol 3247 drive went as planned, crushing and breaking nodules as shown above and right of center in this Navcam image.This image was taken by Left Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3247. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

This is a black and white image of the rocky, sandy surface of Mars. The surface appears to be smooth and there are small chunks of rocks in places.
Compare the new Navcam image above with this Right Mastcam image of the same bedrock block taken on Sol 3238, before the rover drove up to this block. This image was taken by Mast Camera (Mastcam) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3238. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS. Download image ›

The fresh surfaces exposed by the rover wheels are high-priority contact science targets, but because solar conjunction is approaching, the arm will not be used in this 3-sol weekend plan to ensure that it is in a safe configuration before we stand down from tactical operations while Mars goes behind the Sun as seen from Earth. Even though Mars will not pass directly behind the Sun, radio communications between Mars and Earth will be unreliable due to interference from the Sun’s corona.

However, remote sensing observations can be planned for this weekend, so the rover will be busy! The Sol 3248 plan starts with a ChemCam LIBS observation of “Wolf Stone” to sample the chemical composition of a nodule that appears to have been scratched by the rover wheel. ChemCam and Mastcam will also measure the spectral reflectance of a cluster of disturbed nodules called “Helmsdale Boulder Beds” that is likely to be the target of contact science observations after solar conjunction. Mastcam will then acquire stereo images of 3 dark sandy targets named “Sandness Coast” that will be imaged again after solar conjunction to look for changes due to winds. Mastcam and Navcam will observe the sun and sky early and late in the afternoon, then early the next morning (Sol 3249) to look for clouds and measure changes in the amount of dust in the atmosphere. ChemCam RMI and Mastcam will also acquire mosaics of the cliff toward the west when it will be nicely illuminated early in the morning. Later that morning, Navcam will search for dust devils and ChemCam will fire its laser at “Clashach,” another nodule that appears to have been scratched by the wheels. Then ChemCam will measure the composition of the atmosphere and Mastcam will acquire a 7x2 stereo mosaic of the nearby nodular bedrock. Overnight, CheMin will analyze the cell that contained the most recent drill sample to confirm that the cell is now empty. Finally, on Sol 3250, Navcam will search for dust devils and image the rover deck to enable comparison with images taken after conjunction, to look for changes in the distribution of sand and dust on top of the rover.

September 22, 2021

Sol 3245: Waste Not, Want Not

Written by Michelle Minitti, Planetary Geologist at Framework
This is a black and white zoomed in image of the rocky, sandy surface of Mars.

This image was taken by Mast Camera (Mastcam) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3242. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS. Download image ›

Over the last two weeks, Curiosity has thoroughly interrogated the “Maria Gordon” drill hole and sample. Mastcam multispectral and ChemCam passive observations probed the mineralogy of the drill cuttings, and ChemCam LIBS measured the chemistry of the bedrock in three dimensions. CheMin analyzed the sample mineralogy, and SAM investigated the volatile and organic content of the sample. To extract as much knowledge as possible from a resource as precious as a drill sample, tosol it was time for MAHLI and APXS to get in on the action. The sol started with Curiosity liberating (or, less elegantly, dumping) the remaining sample from the drill so that MAHLI and APXS could image and analyze it. MAHLI also imaged the drill cuttings, which have moved relatively little since they were formed on Sol 3229, to help plan APXS placement over the cuttings in a future plan to best effect. Adding data from the contact science instruments will help us build a more complete story of the rocks of this section of Mount Sharp.

Even with the focus on the drill hole and sample today, there was still time to acquire observations of our surroundings. ChemCam will acquire chemistry data from “Megaltih," one of the many parallel, linear ridges that cut across the bedrock of this area (and similar to the one in the image above, “Falls of Shin” from Sol 3242). ChemCam will also use RMI to image a new section of the spectacular layering within “Rafael Navarro Mountain.” REMS and RAD will keep their fingers on the pulse of the Gale environment, and DAN will execute both passive measurements and active soundings of the subsurface during the sol. Navcam will acquire its trifecta of atmospheric measurements: a dust devil survey, a cloud movie, and a line of sight observation to measure the dust in the atmosphere.

September 22, 2021

Sols 3246-3247: Curiosity, the Nodule Crusher!

Written by Mark Salvatore, Planetary Geologist at University of Michigan
This is a close up image of a drill hole made by Curiosity. The sand surrounding and inside the drill site is crumbly and smooth.

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 September 22, 2021, Sol 3245 of the Mars Science Laboratory Mission. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS. Download image ›

This two-sol plan will wrap up our drilling activities at the Maria Gordon drill location before continuing the drive up-section and towards the southwest. On the first sol of the plan, Curiosity will primarily be performing arm activities to further characterize the recently dumped drill sample and the drill hole. Daytime and evening imaging will occur using the MAHLI camera on the end of the arm. Overnight, the APXS instrument will be used to characterize the chemistry of the drill tailings. On the following sol, the team has planned a series of Mastcam mosaics and a long-distance ChemCam image mosaic, in addition to a Mastcam multispectral image on the drill dump pile.

Following this suite of science activities, Curiosity will drive away from this drill location and towards a region that contains a high abundance of nodules in the bedrock. Curiosity will use a driving technique designed to better prepare the nodular surface for additional investigations. Once Curiosity reaches her intended target at the end of the drive, she will perform a series of small maneuvers designed to crush any nodular targets on the surface before turning back around and putting herself in position to analyze the surface. If successful, we hope that this technique will result in better preparing the surface for additional imaging and compositional analyses, beyond what is commonly performed by Curiosity during normal imaging and surface analysis campaigns.

September 20, 2021

Sol 3244: Scone Today, Drill Tomorrow?

Written by Fred Calef, Planetary Geologist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory
This is a black and white image of the drill hole, "Maria Gordon", and the prominent hill, "Siccar Point".

A view of our latest drill hole, "Maria Gordon", and prominent hill, "Siccar Point". This image was taken by Front Hazard Avoidance Camera (Front Hazcam) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3243. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

After taking a second look at our "Maria Gordon" drill sample by SAM, we're still debating on whether to stay for a second drill attempt here or move along to look at some nodules in the bedrock before Conjunction (when we do not command Curiosity because Mars is on the other side of the Sun). While some targets may remind you (ok, maybe just me) of food, today's bedrock target "Scone Palace" (pronounced more like "schooner" than the tasty pastry) will give us another measurement of the nearby surface while we image "Siccar Point" for a third time from this location with Mastcam and ChemCam RMI to get different lighting angles to enhance the amazing textures and details we see there.

September 17, 2021

Sols 3241-3243: SAM

Written by Catherine O'Connell-Cooper, Planetary Geologist at University of New Brunswick
This black and white image shows the sandy surface with cracks.

This image was taken by Left Navigation Camera, with the ChemCam target “Falls of Shin” in the centre of the image. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download Image ›

In Monday’s plan, sample was delivered to SAM (Sample Analysis at Mars) for an EGA (evolved gas analysis) activity, which involved heating the sample to very high temperatures and measuring the gases that bake out of the sample with each temperature increment. Coming into planning this morning, we were waiting to see what SAM thought – had it got enough information from the sample, or was there interest in going further? And SAM said Yes please! and requested a follow up activity, using the gas chromatograph and mass spectrometer (GCMS), which can identify different compounds. On the first sol of the weekend, SAM will uplink a sequence to clean the SAM Gas Columns (GC),before analyzing the sample on the second sol of the weekend plan.

These are very power intensive procedures, so GEO was limited in its activities. Luckily, this workspace continues to interest us. ChemCam is conducting a paired experiment across a raised vein area (the ridged crack in the centre of the image above), with one sample “Falls of Shin” right on the vein itself and a second sample “Falls of Foyers” a little beyond the vein area. This will allow the ChemCam team to study the alteration effects associated with the vein.

As the APXS Strategic planner this week, it has been pretty quiet for me. No APXS or MAHLI are allowed until the drilled sample is emptied from the drill. However, next week will be busy, cramming all our final contact science investigations on the Maria Gordon drilled samples before we move into Conjunction the following week. Curiosity gets to take a bit of a vacation for a couple of weeks, as it moves behind the sun, and all communications will cease for two weeks.

September 15, 2021

Sol 3240: Watching and Waiting...

Written by Lucy Thompson, Planetary Geologist at University of New Brunswick
This is a black and white image of the Gordon drill hole after the second LIBS analysis. The image was taken through a circular lens and shows a rocky surface surroubnding the hollow hole made by the Gordon drill.

Gordon drill hole after the second LIBS analysis (note the two sets of LIBS shots on the side of the hole). This image was taken by Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3238. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL. Download Image ›

Coming into planning today, we had to be mindful of power after the energy intensive delivery of the Maria Gordon drilled sample to SAM and the Evolved Gas Analysis (EGA) of that sample, currently taking place on Mars. While we wait for the results of the SAM EGA, we are continuing to survey the stunning terrain around us as we transition from clay-bearing to sulfate-bearing rocks. ChemCam will analyze the chemistry of a rough textured bedrock area, “Ruby Bay” and Mastcam will acquire a supporting documentation image of the same target. The remaining activities in this single sol plan are the standard REMS, RAD and DAN measurements, and Mastcam and Navcam environmental observations.

As the APXS Payload Uplink and Download Lead, it has been a quiet day, with no arm or APXS activities permitted until we dump the drill sample. I made sure that APXS was healthy by checking the downlink and then focused my attention on some features that we hope to analyze as we drive away from this location. By pre-planning desired observations, we can streamline the tactical process for when we eventually attempt the desired measurement.

We are all eagerly awaiting the results of the SAM EGA. Based on those results, the SAM team will decide if they want to perform a Gas Chromatography Mass Spectrometry analysis, or if we will proceed with dumping the sample. If we dump the sample, we hope to drive away from Maria Gordon next week.

September 13, 2021

Sols 3238-3239: SAM, What Do You Think?

Written by Lauren Edgar, Planetary Geologist at USGS Astrogeology Science Center
This is a black and white image of hills and miniature sand dunes. The surface of Mars is rocky.

This image was taken by Right Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3225. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

Curiosity is working her way through a busy drill campaign at the Maria Gordon location and keeping her eyes on the beautiful cliffs nearby. Unfortunately the weekend plan didn’t uplink to the rover due to a DSN issue, so that means that today’s two-sol plan was devoted to recovering those activities. CheMin got to analyze the drill sample last week, so now it’s SAM’s turn. The main activities in today’s plan are the drop-off to SAM and Evolved Gas Analysis. CheMin will also dump the sample to clear out the cell for future use. The science team planned a lot of targeted remote sensing observations, including a ChemCam observation down the drill hole, multiple Mastcam mosaics to investigate nearby stratigraphy and nodule-rich areas, another ChemCam observation of a delicious target named “Chocolate Bloc” and a lot of environmental monitoring activities to monitor dust and clouds and search for dust devils. I was on shift as Long Term Planner today, so I was busy revising our sol path to respond to changes and think about multiple options for the rest of this week depending on the results of the SAM experiment. Can’t wait to find out what SAM thinks of the Maria Gordon sample!

September 10, 2021

Sols 3235-3237: The Colors of Mars

Written by Scott Guzewich, Atmospheric Scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
Soft-focus image of the Curiosity rover’s Mastcam calibration target, covered with a thin layer of light brown dust. The target is a small, sundial-shaped installation on top of the rover.

This image was taken by Mast Camera (Mastcam) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3230. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS. Download image ›

One of our ChemCam LIBS targets in today’s plan is named "Chocolate Bloc." And aside from making me hungry, it reminded me of the wide range of colors of Mars. Colors ranging from the bright white of its polar caps, to the deep chocolate browns of the sand dunes, to a thousand shades of red, pink, tan, and yellow. It reminded me of a scene in Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy of novels where the characters try to identify all the various colors they see outside on the planet’s surface. But color is often very much in the eye of the beholder and making it as uniform as possible, so different locations can be properly compared, is an important job. Mastcam regularly takes pictures of its (now very dusty and seemingly uniform in color) calibration target for this very purpose (this is the most recent one from last weekend).

Aside from getting the measure of Chocolate Bloc, our primary goal this weekend is for SAM to study the material from our Maria Gordon drill hole. SAM will heat the material to very high temperatures to determine what it’s made of and how water may have interacted with the rock in the distant past. We’ll also do a variety of imaging with Mastcam and a ChemCam long-distance image of Rafael Navarro mountain.

September 7, 2021

Sols 3232-3234: Drill Hole Number 33!

Written by Abigail Fraeman, Planetary Geologist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory
This image was taken by Mast Camera (Mastcam) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3229.

This image was taken by Mast Camera (Mastcam) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3229. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS. Full image and caption ›

Any morning where we get to plan Curiosity’s activities on Mars is a good morning, but mornings we find out we’ve successfully drilled are extra sweet. The subset of the Curiosity operations team who are located at JPL have a tradition of celebrating the rover’s successful drills by eating donut holes. Although it’s difficult to share a delicious box of donut holes while we’re all working remotely, the team has still found creative ways to keep the tradition alive. Over the weekend, we learned that Curiosity collected its 33rd drilled sample from the “Maria Gordon” drill location, so Project Manager Megan Lin shared a recipe for baked apple cider donut holes with everyone to celebrate this morning. Apple cider donut holes sound perfect for fall, so I know what I’ll be baking tonight! Mmmmm.

The star of today’s plan is delivery and analysis of drilled material from Maria Gordon to the CheMin onboard laboratory. These analyses will tell us detailed information about the minerals that are present in this rock. In addition to the CheMin activities, we will also acquire a few Mastcam mosaics, ChemCam RMI mosaics, and ChemCam LIBS observation of the drill hole wall and nearby bedrock target named “Holoman Island.” Some environmental science monitoring will round out the plan. I’m really looking forward to seeing what this rock is made of and continuing to study the geology exposed in our scenic location.

September 3, 2021

Sols 3228-3231: Try This Again…

Written by Susanne Schwenzer, Planetary Geologist at The Open University
This is a black and white image of the smooth, sandy surface of Mars. There are two low hills in the background with lots of small scattered boulders.

This image was taken by Mast Camera (Mastcam) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3225. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS. Download image ›

Looking over the shoulder, well, over our UHF antenna, onto a spectacular landscape. The higher we climb the more spectacular and rugged the scenery appears. This image was taken by Mast Camera (Mastcam) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3225.

Our recent two-sol plan for sols 3226-3227 was not uplinked, so the rover had a two-sol break. The next plan is a four-sol plan because of Monday being the Labor Day holiday in the US. As a consequence, the plan now has drill preparations, such as doing a ChemCam raster, the DRT and Mastcam multispectral observation of the drill site on sol 3228, and getting CheMin ready, too. Curiosity will drill at "Maria Gordon" on sol 3229, followed by portion characterization, and Mastcam multispectral investigation and ChemCam passive spectral investigation of the drill tailings. So, when we come back from our holiday here on Earth, we shall see images of drill hole #33 on Mars. Second time lucky!

With a four-sol plan to come, there is a lot more to do for Curiosity. We are back in the season where frost events are likely. Therefore, a frost detection investigation on the target "Mangersta Sands" is in the plan, whereby the target will be investigated twice, once very early in the morning and once during daytime for a comparison of the hydrogen, a proxy for water content at different times. Mastcam is taking two large mosaics to document the spectacular landscape – because spectacular to look at is not just an aesthetic judgement, there is a lot of geology to see, too, with different layers, textures and structures. Last but not least, we also have the standard atmospheric observations, DAN and REMS investigations.