April 1, 2020

Sols 2722-2723: Portion to Exhaustion – The Drilled Fines, Not Curiosity!

Written by Lucy Thompson, Planetary Geologist at University of New Brunswick
An individual frame of a Mars mosaics taken by NASA's Curiosity rover.

Individual frame of one of the ChemCam RMI long distance mosaics, taken on Sol 2719. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL. Download image ›

The primary focus of our two-sol plan is to prepare the drill bit assembly to dump the remaining “Edinburgh” drilled sample (portion to exhaustion), so that it can be analyzed in the upcoming weekend plan with the APXS and MAHLI instruments for chemistry and texture respectively. Sample has successfully been delivered to both Curiosity’s internal CheMin and SAM instruments, and we are awaiting the results of the mineralogy and volatile/isotope chemistry, with the 3rd night of CheMin analysis in this plan. The Edinburgh sample represents the blocky, dark grey sandstone, pediment-capping unit that overlies the Murray mudstone. The science team are interested to see how the mineralogy and chemistry might differ between these two rocks types, given that they were likely deposited in different environments.

While Curiosity has been parked here on the pediment, analyzing the Edinburgh sample, we have been acquiring a number of ChemCam RMI long distance mosaics to document the area around us; in particular, to look at features associated with a “washboard” pattern observed from orbit. In the plan tosol we are acquiring two more of these RMI mosaics. ChemCam will also be used in its active LIBS mode to continue documenting compositional variability of the bedrock immediately surrounding the rover, analyzing the “Phlanaid Mars” and “Kinesswood Sandstone” targets. Mastcam will take a supporting documentation image of the ChemCam LIBS targets, as well as an image of the Edinburgh drill hole and surrounding drill fines to ensure that it is safe for MAHLI to image them with the lens cover open in the next plan.

Environmental activities in this plan include two Navcam dust devil survey observations and a movie, Mastcam basic tau and crater rim extinction observations, and a Mastcam Phobos video. Standard REMS, RAD and DAN passive activities are also planned.

As the APXS strategic planner today, it was a relatively quiet day, but the APXS team are eager to analyze the Edinburgh drilled powder that we plan to dump from the rover at the weekend! I will be busy on Friday helping to plan this measurement and thinking ahead to APXS observations we would like to make once we drive away from here.

March 31, 2020

Sols 2720-2721: Extend Those Mosaics!

Written by Ryan Anderson, Planetary Geologist at USGS Astrogeology Science Center
An image of Mount Sharp on Mars

This image was taken by Right Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 2717. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

The priority for the sol 2720 plan is to drop off and analyze a sample of the Edinburgh drill hole in SAM, but we’ve got plenty of remote sensing in the plan too, much of it building on our previous observations from this spot. We start each morning with a Navcam dust devil survey. On Sol 2720, Mastcam has a stereo mosaic of a nearby hilltop, extending a previous mosaic to look for changes in the weathering behavior of the pediment cap rock. This is followed by ChemCam observations of two sandstone bedrock targets named “Tron Kirk” and “Dunedin” and extensions of two long-distance RMI mosaics of the “washboard” surface of the pediment. Mastcam will document the ChemCam targets, and then take some pictures of the SAM inlet before and after sample dropoff. Navcam also has an 8-frame movie toward the south to watch for atmospheric activity like clouds. APXS then has an overnight atmospheric observation (yes, APXS can measure the atmosphere too!).

On Sol 2721, ChemCam has a vertical measurement inside the Edinburgh drill hole. After Mastcam documents that observation, it will add some frames to its own mosaic of the washboard pattern on the pediment. Navcam will then take a picture toward the north to study the amount of dust in the atmosphere. The rest of sol 2721 will be taken up by SAM’s analysis of the Edinburgh sample.

March 30, 2020

Sols 2717-2719: The Poetry of Drilling on Mars

Written by Melissa Rice, Planetary Geologist at Western Washington University
An image of Mount Sharp on Mars

This image was taken by Right Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 2714. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Full download ›

Curiosity’s drill campaigns are like poetry in fixed verse. A predefined set of activities has to occur in a sequence: first Curiosity must assess an outcrop for drilling, then drill and extract a sample, then process and characterize the sample, then deliver the sample to the CheMin instrument for analysis, then prepare the SAM instrument, then deliver the sample to SAM for analysis, and finally dump the sample on the ground.

All of this happens over a period of a couple weeks, and when we are planning the science observations for any given sol, we need to work within the scaffolding of the drill campaign sequence. But like poets crafting sonnets in iambic pentameter, we find freedom within the fixed structure to create something new.

Such is the case for today’s plan, covering sols 2717-2719: as Curiosity proceeds with the Edinburgh drill campaign, we use free blocks of time here and there to explore the landscape. The main structure of this three-sol plan includes a second analysis of the Edinburgh drill sample with CheMin and the preconditioning of the SAM instrument to prepare for an Evolved Gas Analysis (EGA) observation next week.

As for the other science observations:

Mastcam peers at the
Enigmatic outcrop with
A panorama.

ChemCam shoots three rocks:
“Albany,” “Alloway,” and

Pediment surface
Revealed by ChemCam's Remote
Micro Imager.

Navcam movies seek
To capture swirls of dust that
Sweep the horizon.

March 26, 2020

Sols 2715-2716 One More Time

Written by Fred Calef, Planetary Geologist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory
A black and white view of Mars and Curiosity

The target "Eaglesham," upper right of center, shows prominent crossbedding. This image was taken by NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 2702. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

As the Edinburgh drill campaign continues, and the CheMin instrument awaits the first taste of the bedrock in front of us, the science team focuses on filling out Greenheugh pediment observations as well as responding to early results we've already received.

Having multiple observations of the same rocks and expanding datasets to cover more area helps put high value results from the drill campaign in context. We don't get to do this too often, except when we stop for a few sols. Also, it makes sense to keep the other instruments busy and get the most science we can while we wait for instruments like SAM and CheMin to process data, which usually takes a few days (it's complicated!).

On sol 2715, after finding some interesting chemistry on target "Eaglesham," it would've been a shame if we didn't take another look! A ChemCam observation called "Eaglesham2" takes a vertical sample over the crossbedding (rock layers that intersect by angle) in that rock. There will also be ChemCam shots into the drill hole to sample ever so slightly below the surface, including an RMI Z-stack (makes a very clear image).

Mastcam will takes some images of these targets too. There's great interest to document the washboard-like pattern we see from orbit on the Greenheugh pediment as well as the prominent ridge on top of it, since we have such a unique and amazing view. ChemCam will take more long distance RMIs of the washboard pattern and the interface between the ridge and the washboard, which we call "Skelkirkshire." Skelkirkshire shows layers of boulders and probable light-toned sandstones, which tells us something about how the ridge formed. CheMin will get its first Edinburgh sample portion. DAN, RAD, and REMS makes observations as well.

On Sol 2716, we get a chance to image Mars' dreadful moon Deimos with Mastcam and extend previously taken mosaics across the Greenheugh pediment ridge and surrounding bedrock in front of us. Atmospheric observations include Mastcam tau (measures dust in the martian air), crater rim extinction, Navcam super horizon cloud search, and REMS observations for temperatures, winds, and pressure.

Just like our rover instruments, stay safe and healthy!

March 24, 2020

Sols 2713-2714: Check Your Work!

Written by Michelle Minitti, Planetary Geologist at Framework
Mars surface as seen by Curiosity on Sol 2711

This image was taken by Right Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 2711. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech Download image ›

The drill successfully dug into the “Edinburgh” target over the weekend, the first sandstone the drill has attempted to conquer since the engineering team hacked a new drilling method back in 2018.

As any good student would at the end of a test, it is now time for Curiosity to check her work! Curiosity will drop three small portions of rock powder from the drill onto various rover surfaces, and then Mastcam will image those portions. This is a good way to check the sample in the drill before it is delivered to CheMin and SAM.

Portion characterization is the main goal of the plan, but the science team added other observations to the plan. ChemCam hit a slight hiccup on the last sol of the weekend plan, but one that was straightforward to recover from at the start of the plan today.

ChemCam will first recover observations from the weekend including a passive spectral observation of the Edinburgh drill tailings piled up around the drill hole, and a long distance RMI mosaic across the “Greenheugh pediment” target “Three Lochs.” ChemCam will then get an analysis from its titanium calibration target. Navcam will acquire a mosaic covering the top of the pediment and Mt. Sharp to enable the team to target future Mastcam and ChemCam observations as far as our rover eyes can see.

The skies got plenty of attention today, as well. Navcam will acquire movies looking for dust devils at two different times of day, as well as images to consistently monitor the amount of dust in the atmosphere. Navcam will also throw in a movie looking for clouds for good measure!

March 20, 2020

Sol 2710-2712: Full Drill Ahead!

Written by Rachel Kronyak, Planetary Geologist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory
An image of the Edinburgh bedrock

Curiosity will soon drill Edinburgh bedrock, seen in this image taken by MAHLI onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 2703.Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS Download image ›

In light of recent events, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has transitioned to teleworking for most employees. For the last few weeks, we have been making preparations so that our rover operations can be carried out with the JPL-based members of the team working remotely. Luckily, most of the science team has been working remotely for years! I’ve been serving as a Geo Keeper of the Plan (GKOP) for the last ~5 years, and most of that time was spent working remotely from the University of Tennessee. So, for most folks, it’s business as usual, which has helped smooth our transition to full teleworking.

Today we planned a 3-sol weekend plan. Despite today being our first day of fully remote operations, we made a jam-packed plan of activities centering around drilling target “Edinburgh!”

We’ll kick off the first sol of the weekend plan, Sol 2710, with a nice long science block full of both geological and environmental-focused observations. During the science block, we’ll perform a Mastcam multispectral observation of the “Eshaness” target (we had our first look at Eshaness on Monday using the DRT, MAHLI, and APXS instruments). We will also collect ChemCam LIBS data on two nearby targets including a soil target “Digg” and bedrock target “Eaglesham,” along with corresponding Mastcam documentation images. To wrap up our science block, we will make some of our standard atmospheric observations, including a Navcam dust devil survey, a Mastcam solar tau, and a Mastcam crater rim extinction image.

We have another science block in the early morning of Sol 2711, during which we’ll perform a similar suite of environmental observations as well as a Mastcam 360-degree mosaic. These hefty mosaics are especially useful during our drill campaigns, as they provide great context for our drilling operations and the broader geology around us. The rest of Sol 2711 will be dedicated to drilling the target “Edinburgh.”

Following a much-deserved night of sleep, Curiosity will wake up on Sol 2712 for the last science block of the weekend plan. During the science block, we’ll take dust devil survey and line-of-sight images with Navcam. Next, we’ll use ChemCam’s passive mode (no laser) to observe the Edinburgh drill tailings as well as use the RMI to take a long-distance mosaic of the target “Three Lochs,” an area further up the Greenheugh pediment. We’ll round out the plan by using Mastcam to take a multispectral observation of the Edinburgh drill tailings and take a stereo mosaic to expand our coverage of the “Hilltop” area, first imaged on Sol 2705.

We managed to plan a very full weekend plan for Curiosity, and had a very smooth day of planning for Curiosity’s operations team. It’s full steam (or rather, drill) ahead!

Stay safe, and continue to explore Mars with us!

March 17, 2020

Sol 2706: Science Team is Go for Drilling!

Written by Ken Herkenhoff, Planetary Geologist at USGS Astrogeology Science Center
This image of the Edinburgh bedrock was taken by MAHLI onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 2703

This image of the Edinburgh bedrock was taken by MAHLI onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 2703. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS. Download image ›​

During the acquisition of the MAHLI images on Sol 2705, an arm hiccup prevented the sequence from completing. But enough images were successfully acquired that it's not necessary to repeat the MAHLI sequence, and the arm issue is well understood so that no special recovery activities were required.

We were therefore able to plan full contact science today, with DRT brushing of a bedrock target named "Eshaness."

Navcam will be used to search for dust devils and clouds, and Mastcam will take stereo image pairs to extend the mosaic of the hilltop. ChemCam planned a horizontal LIBS raster on a bedrock block dubbed "Corstorphine Hill" and another vertical raster on Glen Finglas using tighter point spacing. The Right Mastcam will take images of both ChemCam targets and of Glen Feshie, which was obscured by the arm when it was imaged on Sol 2705.

After an afternoon nap, MAHLI will acquire a full suite of images of the Eshaness brush spot and images from 25 and 5 cm of a soil patch named "Balliekine." APXS will then hover over Balliekine for an evening integration before the instrument is placed on Eshaness for an overnight integration.

Finally, early on the morning of Sol 2707, CheMin will perform funnel piezo and wheel move activities in preparation for the next drill target. During multiple discussions today, the science team concluded that we should go ahead and drill the Edinburgh bedrock target in our next plan.

So it was an interesting and exciting day for me as SOWG chair!

March 13, 2020

Sol 2703-2705: Assessing a possible drill target at 'Edinburgh'

Written by Abigail Fraeman, Planetary Geologist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory
The "Edinburgh" target (trapezoid shaped block, upper left) as viewed from our sol 2700 location.

The "Edinburgh" target (trapezoid shaped block, upper left) as viewed from our sol 2700 location. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS. Download image ›​

Our small bump in Wednesday’s plan left Curiosity in a good position to examine a potential drill target that we have named “Edinburgh.” This weekend, we will DRT Edinburgh and observe it with ChemCam, APXS, MAHLI, and Mastcam’s multispectral filters. We will analyze these observations to help make a decision on Monday about whether we want to continue with a full drill in this area or move on.

The other geology-focused activities in the weekend plan include ChemCam observations of targets named “Tentsmuir,” “Glen Finglas,” and “Glen Feshie,” along with a 19x2 Mastcam mosaic of our surroundings. We will also conduct a series of environmental science investigations that include a measure of the amount of argon in the atmosphere using APXS, a dust devil survey, and several Navcam observations of far-away targets to characterize the amount of dust in the atmosphere. Finally, we will take a bunch of MAHLI images of the surface in front of us at different angles in order to understand how reflected light behaves with different viewing geometries.

March 12, 2020

Sols 2701-2702: Approaching a Possible Drill Target

Written by Ken Herkenhoff, Planetary Geologist at USGS Astrogeology Science Center
Image of Curiosity on the surface of Mars

Curiosity took this image on on March 11, 2020 (Sol 2700). The slab on the upper right of the image is a potential drill target. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

The Sol 2700 drive went well, setting the rover up for contact and remote science on exposures of the pediment-capping bedrock. Before the arm is deployed on Sol 2701, ChemCam will measure the elemental chemistry of the sides of a couple bedrock slabs dubbed "Strath Halladale" and "Glen Tanar."

The Right Mastcam will image both of the ChemCam targets, then the DRT will be used to brush off the top of another slab of bedrock at "Assynt Window." MAHLI will take seven images of the brushed spot and another three images of a nearby slab named "Glen Feshie." The APXS will be placed on Glen Feshie for an evening integration, then moved over to Assynt Window for an overnight integration.

The next morning (Sol 2702), the arm will be stowed to allow ChemCam to observe a different bedrock slab named "Beinn Fhada" and the side of a rock called "Shieldaig." After the Right Mastcam takes images of those targets, the rover will perform a short drive to get Beinn Fhada in the arm workspace, allowing detailed investigation of this slab (upper right) as a potential drill target. After the drive, the arm will be unstowed to allow unobstructed imaging of the arm workspace to support targeting for the weekend plan.

Finally, Navcam will search for clouds and MARDI will take a standard twilight image of a new patch of Mars' surface. If all goes well and pending analysis of these new data, the team may decide to acquire a new drill sample!

March 10, 2020

Sol 2700: Photo Shoot

Written by Scott Guzewich, Atmospheric Scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
This image was taken by Left Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 2698.

This image was taken by Left Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 2698. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

Today’s plan focused on completing a major task of our science campaign investigating the Greenheugh Pediment: taking a large Mastcam stereo mosaic of the pediment capping unit and the distant Gediz Vallis ridge. Much of the mosaic’s field-of-view is covered in this Navcam image. This large mosaic will help link the patterns seen from orbit with what we see on the ground and help us understand how the pediment and Gediz Vallis formed and what their relative ages are compared to the rest of the features we’ve explored.

After taking that mosaic and a Navcam dust devil survey (the Greenheugh Pediment also appears to be particularly prone to dust devils), we’ll make a short drive to the west to reach our 3rd stop on this science campaign. After evaluating that location later this week, we’ll decide which spot we’ll want to drill.