February 24, 2020

Sol 2686-2687: The Tail End of the Hutton Drill Campaign

Written by Scott Guzewich, Atmospheric Scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
Studying drill "tailings," gray material surrounding the drill hole.

Studying drill "tailings," gray material surrounding the drill hole. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS. Download image ›

We’re wrapping up our Hutton drill campaign literally at the tail end. Specifically, today’s plan focused on studying those drill “tailings” (the gray material surrounding the drill hole in this MAHLI image) with ChemCam, Mastcam, MAHLI, and APXS. This phase of the drill campaign helps compare the SAM and CheMin laboratory analyses with the data from our remote sensing instruments of the same material from the drill hole. It’s always interesting to see that Mars’ red color is sometimes literally only skin-deep and underneath can be much more of a lunar gray.

We also packed in a few additional observations of some nearby rock targets, including an intriguing fin-like structure sticking out of the ground nearby called “Dunbartonshire.” We’ll look at it also with MAHLI and APXS on the second night of our 2-sol plan. ENV included a dust devil movie, but has been unable to do much additional long-distance imaging work at our current location due to the cliff surrounding us on three sides blocking our view in most directions.

February 21, 2020

Sol 2683-2685: And Still Using 'Many a Joule'!

Written by Susanne Schwenzer, Planetary Geologist at The Open University
This image shows the wide diversity of rocks at the Hutton site. It was taken by the Mast Camera (Mastcam) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 2680.

This image shows the wide diversity of rocks at the Hutton site. It was taken by the Mast Camera (Mastcam) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 2680. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS. Download image ›

The title of this blog is a quote from my fellow blogger Dawn Sumner’s poem in the sol 2676 to 2679 blog, and it seems the best way to capture our struggles once again. The reason for the focus on power is that we are still in the middle of the Hutton drill campaign. This gives us lots of things to do, but power constraints restrict what we can achieve each planning. But, we’ll get this all done, we just need to be patient (not this blogger’s personal best skill!). The focus of today’s planning is to progress with the drill activities, mainly dealing with the remainder of the portioning and then dumping the samples and getting APXS overnight on it. There was a lot of discussion how to play that ‘power tetris’ once again.

And we now have a lot in the plan! First, arm movements are required to carry out further portioning of the sample, and then dump the sample. Mastcam, APXS and MAHLI are documenting the chemistry and textures of the dump pile.

Documenting the area far and near is one of the priorities for ChemCam and Mastcam. There are two RMI mosaics to document the buttes around us, named “South Esk 2” and “Glenrothes 2,” and there is a further RMI mosaic, named “Moray Firth.” The latter is especially looking at the capping material of the butte – and the contact to the underlying rocks. All those images will serve to investigate the sedimentary features of the area and understand if wind or wate rformed these rocks. With the opportunity to image the buttes from three dimensions, there is great opportunity to get behind all the details.

Mastcam is joining the imaging campaign, with one single frame stereo image to join previous mosaics, and two mosaics: a 9x1 of the target “Craiglaw Point,” which is to document the sedimentary structures at this location. Mastcam is also joining the RMI sedimentology campaign with a 3x1 of the target “Morav Firth.” Of course, there are also images to document the ChemCam activities.

ChemCam is busy documenting the chemistry in the area of the Hutton drill hole as there is a lot of diversity in the rocks. The targets in this plan will therefore investigate three targets: “Glen Rosa,” “Glen Quaich” and “Glen Shira.” Of course, DAN and REMS are also busy doing their regular measurements. A lot to do, even for a three-sol plan!

To conclude the blog with the phrase the science planers used over and over again today, while working hard (and over-time!) to optimize every observation to minimize the use of power: “We are squeezing every last electron out of this today.”

February 19, 2020

Sols 2680-2682: Can You Smell What Sam Is Cooking?

Written by Michelle Minitti, Planetary Geologist at Framework
This image was taken by Left Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 2674.

This image was taken by Left Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 2674 (2020-02-13 15:48:56 UTC). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

​Curiosity kicked off her fifth Mars Year with a successful and busy weekend, running both CheMin and SAM to increase our knowledge of the mineralogy, chemistry and isotopic composition of the “Hutton” drill sample. Based on the weekend’s results, SAM elected to analyze a second batch of Hutton to gain insight into its volatile and organic contents. Preparing for the SAM analysis and the analysis itself will take up the bulk of the power in our three sol plan, but we still had enough power left for additional science observations both near and far from the rover.

ChemCam will fire up its laser to acquire chemistry across a vein and the bedrock adjacent to it ("Salt Pan Bay”) and from the interior wall of the “Hutton” drill hole. ChemCam will also use the RMI to acquire a ten image mosaic along the top of "Western Butte” (here dubbed “South Esk”) and a five image mosaic across a more distant butte (“Glenrothes”). Mastcam will cover the near- and mid-field with two large stereo mosaics that connect to the extensive and more distant mosaics we have of the “Glen Torridon” terrain we have been exploring over the last year. The stereo data help us visualize the structural relationships between the many rock types around the rover.

Navcam will scan the skies near midday on Sol 2680 for dust devils, and then Navcam and Mastcam will acquire images and movies later in the afternoon on Sol 2681 to assess the dust load in the atmosphere and look for clouds. REMS and RAD will keep tabs on the weather and radiation within Gale.

February 14, 2020

Sols 2676-2679: 4 Sols of Love for Curiosity!

Written by Dawn Sumner, Planetary Geologist at University of California Davis
A cheerful patch of heart-shaped sunlight reminds us of how we love learning about Mars!

A cheerful patch of heart-shaped sunlight reminds us of how we love learning about Mars! Curiosity took this image using its Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), located on the turret at the end of the rover's robotic arm, on December 16, 2012 (Sol 129). Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS. Download image ›

Drilling on Mars!
It's so super cool
SAM bakes up our sample
Using many a joule

The team is currently analyzing our most recent drill powder from "Hutton." Our first analysis of its mineralogy with CheMin was successful, and the SAM team decided to proceed with an EGA analysis. This analysis consists of heating the sample powder in an oven and sending the gases that are released into the mass spectrometer. These gases include things like water vapor, carbon dioxide, molecular oxygen, sulfur compounds, and more. Their concentrations and when they arrive in the mass spectrometer give us lots of interesting information about the composition of the sample.

Today, the team put together a 4 sol activity plan that covers the long holiday weekend. We start by delivering part of our Hutton sample powder to the SAM instrument, which will heat it and analyze it overnight. The second sol consists of monitoring our environment and recharging the batteries since heating the sample takes a lot of energy. On the third sol, CheMin takes its turn, performing another analysis to better understand the mineralogy of the Hutton sample. In the early morning of the fourth sol, we are characterizing the atmosphere with a suite of images and movies, and we are adding to a very large mosaic of the slopes around Curiosity. Later on the fourth sol, ChemCam will image "Craigielaw Point," which is near the top of the slope to the south. ChemCam will shoot its laser at the bedrock at "Troup Head," which is close to the Hutton drill site, to analyze its chemistry.

It was great to spend the morning of Valentine's day with the rover I love the most!

February 12, 2020

Sols 2673-2675: Ongoing Analyses at Hutton

Written by Lauren Edgar, Planetary Geologist at USGS Astrogeology Science Center
This image was taken by Mast Camera (Mastcam) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 2668.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS Download image ›

Curiosity is parked at the “Hutton” drill site, just below the contact with the overlying Greenheugh pediment. After a successful drill last week, the rover has been focused on ongoing analyses of the drill sample and further characterization of this site. Yesterday’s activities focused on the drop off of sample to CheMin and CheMin analysis, and today’s plan includes recharge, remote sensing, and SAM preconditioning to prepare for delivery of a portion of the drilled sample to SAM in the weekend plan.

Today we planned three sols because there is no uplink tomorrow. The plan kicks off with a recharge sol and overnight SAM atmospheric observation. The second sol includes a number of ChemCam observations to assess the chemistry of an interesting vein at “Dunbartonshire,” and float rocks that might be from the overlying pediment-capping unit. We also planned an RMI mosaic of “Southern Uplands” to document sedimentary structures in a nearby cliff face. The environmental monitoring theme group planned a Navcam observation to search for dust devils and a Mastcam tau observation to measure the optical depth of the atmosphere at sunset. Overnight, SAM will carry out preconditioning to prepare for sample delivery in the weekend plan. The third sol includes additional ChemCam observations to characterize a vein and bedrock, and associated Mastcam documentation. As the SOWG Chair today it was a fun and straightforward plan – I think the team is eager to find out the first results from CheMin and deliver some sample to SAM!

February 11, 2020

Sol 2672: Continuing to Explore Hutton

Written by Mariah Baker, Planetary Geologist at Johns Hopkins University
This image was taken by Left Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 2665.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech Download image ›

The Curiosity rover is currently located at Hutton, where she successfully completed her 24th drill last week. Once it became clear that the drilling had performed as expected, we began to settle in for our stay here at Hutton; we have been here for 8 sols and we will be here for many more. Today marked “drill sol 4a,” which is characterized by a sample dropoff to CheMin and the first of two CheMin analyses. As we continue working our way slowly through the standard set of activities that accompany every drill campaign, we will also be taking advantage of this stop as an opportunity to collect additional data on targets of interest in the area.

The plan for sol 2672 contained one science block, which the team filled with various remote science activities that will help characterize the drilled material and surrounding surface. Three ChemCam active observations were included in the plan: two will target drill hole material and one will target a nearby vein named “Lanarkshire” (center of the Navcam image above). Additional ChemCam passive measurements will be made on a broken rock named “Dumfriesshire.” Mastcam documentation images were taken of all ChemCam targets; the drill hole documentation image can also be used to search for motion in drill tailings caused by wind. A Navcam zenith movie was the sole atmospheric observation included in the scheduled science block, but the DAN and REMS instruments will also monitor environmental conditions over a large portion of the day. The team is expecting the arrival of much more data over the coming sols as we continue to study the drilled material and explore our workspace!

February 10, 2020

Sols 2669-2671 Successful Drill at Hutton!

Written by Rachel Kronyak, Planetary Geologist at University of Tennessee
Sols 2669-2671 Successful Drill at Hutton!

We were greeted this morning with images of our newest (and 24th!) drill hole on the surface of Mars! The Front Hazcam image above shows the drill in action at target “Hutton.” As a fitting celebration, a box of donut holes was passed around the ops rooms at JPL.

Our weekend plan of activities centers around characterizing our drilled sample as well as conducting additional scientific observations. In the Friday (Sol 2669) plan, Curiosity will first conduct a series of “portioning characterization” experiments. This is to help us understand how much rock powder the drill collected and to ensure that we’re able to deliver samples of adequate size to our SAM and CheMin instruments. First, a portion will be delivered to the workspace and we’ll take before and after Mastcam images for documentation. We’ll repeat this process two more times, delivering additional portions to the SAM inlet cover and taking corresponding Mastcam images. After portioning characterization, Curiosity will use the ChemCam RMI to take images of the Hutton drill hole.

On Saturday (Sol 2670) morning, we will use Mastcam and ChemCam to collect remote science data on the drill hole and our nearby surroundings. With ChemCam, we’ll perform a passive (no laser) observation on the Hutton drill tailings. Next we’ll use the ChemCam laser to probe the targets “Roxburghshire,” a dark gray vein, and “Shettleston,” a float rock hypothesized to come from the nearby Greenheugh pediment caprock. We will also perform several environmental observations including a tau and crater rim extinction with Mastcam, and with Navcam, a sunrise movie, sky survey, and zenith movie.

On Sunday (2671), we’ll take a few Mastcam mosaics including a stereo mosaic of the nearby Western butte and Greenheugh pediment areas as well a large 360° mosaic. In the evening, we’ll wrap up our weekend plan with a long APXS observation of argon in the atmosphere.

February 6, 2020

Sols 2667-2668: GO for Drill at Hutton

Written by Catherine O'Connell, Planetary Geologist at University of New Brunswick
MAHLI close up of the Hutton drill target.

MAHLI close up of the Hutton drill target. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

We are parked at the "Hutton" drill site, our next drill site on Mars. Over the past couple of sols, we have focused on assessing the suitability of the bedrock here as a drill target. APXS and ChemCam investigated the chemical composition to make sure that it falls within our desired compositional range. The engineers and rover planners at JPL assessed physical parameters and properties (for example looking at rock coherency, presence of veins, homogeneity of the surface). As the target was found to be a good candidate, drilling is a GO, so today marks the beginning of the drill activity, with drilling planned for the second sol of this two-sol plan.

During the first sol of the plan, MAHLI will take several images of the “discard site,” where our drilled sample will be dumped once CheMin and SAM have finished analyzing the sample. Drilling takes a lot of power, so other science activities were necessarily curtailed. The geology theme group (GEO) squeezed in two ChemCam LIBS targets “Tarbat Ness” (bedrock) and “Creag na Bruaich” (a float rock). The environmental theme group (ENV) added a pair of Mastcam images looking at dust and opacity, a Navcam dust devil movie, and some standard REMS and DAN environmental monitoring activities.

Following a very long overnight nap to conserve energy, drilling is scheduled to take place on the afternoon of the second sol. Once drilling has completed, Mastcam will image the new drill hole (planning for success!) the “tailings” generated by the percussion drill method, and the drill bit used to ensure it is in good condition.

We will be eagerly awaiting the first images down after drilling, to see if we have the 24th successful drill hole on Mars!

February 5, 2020

Sol 2666: Did the Rover Do That?

Written by Ashley Stroupe, Mission Operations Engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Sol 2666: Did the Rover Do That?

​After seeing our initial contact science results and our successful pre-load test, the plan is to continue preparing to drill and get a sample from the Hutton target. While we finalize our analysis from yesterday’s activities, we are continuing to do more contact science on this fascinating workspace, including looking at “Traprain Law,” a place where our wheel scuffed the rock on an earlier drive (seen as the bright white streak in the center of the image). We also planned contact science on two other spots – “Moorfoot Hills” (a possible hollow nodule) and “Liberton Brae” (bedrock). As a rover planner, the tall nature of these two targets, which are very close together, relative to the local surface made for an interesting challenge to determine how to put the APXS down safety on each of these spots. We ended up touching between the two, to ensure we safely find the highest point, and then offset to get the desired APXS and MAHLI locations.

In conjunction with the contact science, we did a lot of targeted remote sensing science as well, including Mastcam and ChemCam imaging of Hutton and a nearby vein. We also have some of our standard environmental observations – a Mastcam full tau and crater rim extinction.

Alas, however, this is the last day on MSL and at JPL for our Deputy Project Scientist, Joy Crisp. We wish her well in her retirement – Mars won’t be the same without her.

February 4, 2020

Sol 2665: Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

Written by Claire Newman, Atmospheric Scientist at Aeolis Research
Navcam image showing Curiosity surrounded by topography in our current location.

Navcam image showing Curiosity surrounded by topography in our current location. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

Today’s planning was very interesting as we didn’t know what type of sol this would be until right before the Science Operations Working Group (SOWG) meeting when all the science and engineering requests are integrated into a single plan for the rover to execute.

There were three options at the start of planning: (1) stay where we are and prepare to drill; (2) do a ‘bump’ to get into a better position to drill; and (3) a longer drive to find a better location. The issue with (1) was that, while the drive over the weekend left Curiosity in front of a very interesting outcrop, it also left the rover with significant tilt. So it was initially unclear whether we would pass the Slip Risk Assessment Process (SRAP), as required to be able to drill here. For this reason, both the GEO (geology) and ENV (environmental) science theme groups had to come up with a few different plans! Due to power and other constraints, the science block was only 37 minutes long, which didn’t leave enough time to do ChemCam activities as well as everything else. However, this location is of great interest for ChemCam because it’s close to the contact between the Greenheugh Pediment and Murray formation, hence chemical analysis could reveal important information on processes affecting the rocks immediately beneath Mount Sharp’s capping unit.

The ENV group and Mastcam therefore agreed to give up all of our activities to ChemCam if we were going to immediately drive away (option 3). If, however, we were going to stay put or ‘bump’ (options 1 and 2), we decided that ENV and Mastcam activities would take up all of the time, leaving the ChemCam activities until a later sol. Even then, the science activities varied depending on whether we stayed put or moved a little. For example, ENV dust devil movies are ideally taken during a period with REMS coverage, because we can then compare any imaged dust devils (dusty vortices) with measurements of vortex pressure drops made by REMS. The ‘stay put’ plan (option 1) had the science block at about 2pm local true solar time on Mars, which was covered by REMS; however, the ‘bump’ plan (option 2) had the science block earlier, during a period with no REMS coverage. So if we went with option 2, we would have pulled the dust devil movie to make room for other activities.

In the end, we discovered at the start of the SOWG meeting that the rover had passed SRAP and we would be staying put to drill (option 1). We therefore stuck with our bevy of ENV and GEO Mastcam activities. For ENV, these included a Suprahorizon cloud movie (looking for clouds above the north crater rim), a Navcam dust devil movie, and a Navcam ‘line of sight’ measurement of the dustiness across the crater. ENV activities were somewhat limited, as many of them rely on being able to image some distance away (e.g. to look for dust devils in all directions or to look for cloud shadows on Mount Sharp), whereas we are surrounded by high topography in many directions at this location (e.g. see image). For GEO, activities included APXS of the potential drill target “Hutton,” followed by a DRT (to remove dust) then a center and offset APXS on the potential drill spot, as well as a Mastcam mosaic of the top of “Tower Butte” to document sedimentologic structures, a Mastcam observation of a light-toned target named “Dumfriesshire,” and finally Mastcam on a on a portion of the bedrock that had been scuffed by the rover’s wheel, to look for surface changes. The latter will be used to infer wind strength and direction at our current location, which is valuable both for comparison with Mars atmospheric models and to determine the risk of drill samples being blown away.