April 14, 2021

Sol 3090-3091: No MAHLI Today

Written by Ken Herkenhoff, Planetary Geologist at USGS Astrogeology Science Center
Parts of the Curiosity rover and Mars terrain

This image was taken by the Left Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3088. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

The Sol 3088 drive went well, and there is lots of bedrock in the arm workspace. The strategic plan included full contact science to support selection of the next drill target, but unfortunately the Sol 3088 MAHLI activities did not complete as expected, so no MAHLI imaging is planned today while the team evaluates MAHLI telemetry. But we're still planning to brush a bedrock target named "Bardou" and observe the brushed spot and a nearby unbrushed spot with APXS, to help understand the compositions of the bedrock, dust, and sand in the area. Before deploying the arm, a passive ChemCam observation of Bardou is planned, along with RMI mosaics of distant targets on the flank of "Mt. Sharp" and what appears to be a windblown drift deposit near the top of "Mont Mercou." Later in the afternoon of Sol 3090, the Left Mastcam will acquire a full 360-degree mosaic, which is likely to provide a spectacular view.

After the arm is moved out of the way late in the morning of Sol 3091, Navcam and Mastcam will measure the amount of dust suspended in the atmosphere, then Mastcam will acquire a multispectral observation of the brushed spot and stereo mosaics of "Mini Mont Mercou" and a ridge in the distance toward the southwest. Finally, the Left Mastcam will survey the sky for clouds during twilight.

April 12, 2021

Sol 3088-3089: A Beautiful View from the Top of 'Mont Mercou'

Written by Lauren Edgar, Planetary Geologist at USGS Astrogeology Science Center
view from Mont Mercou on Mars

This view from the top of Mont Mercou was taken by the Left Navigation Camera on board NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3086. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

Our mountain-climbing rover has bagged another “peak” and is currently taking in the view from the top of the ~6-meter tall "Mont Mercou" cliff. Over the weekend Curiosity drove ~31 meters, which put the rover on top of the outcrop that we’ve been studying for the past several weeks. We’re assessing the top of Mont Mercou with the intent to potentially drill here, as we continue to assess variations in chemistry and mineralogy as we climb uphill.

I was on shift as SOWG Chair today, and it was a fun and straightforward day of planning. We put together a two-sol plan that starts with APXS and MAHLI observations of the target “Gout Rossignol” to characterize the bedrock in our workspace. Then Curiosity will acquire a ChemCam passive observation on the same target, as well as targets named “Monplaisant” and “Marquay” to look for variability in bedrock and veins. The team also planned several Mastcam mosaics to document bedforms at the top of the hill, look for evidence of how this cliff may have been carved, and gain additional context for the possible drill location. After an hour and half of remote sensing observations, Curiosity will drive ~4 meters to a good location for drill activities later this week. Overnight Curiosity will analyze an empty CheMin cell to prepare for upcoming investigations. The second sol includes several environmental monitoring activities, including a Navcam dust devil survey and images to assess of the dust content in the atmosphere. Just after sunset, Curiosity will wake up to take some Mastcam images of clouds in the atmosphere and a MARDI image of the terrain beneath the rover. Sounds like a lovely way to take in sunset with a view!

April 9, 2021

Sols 3085-3087: Moving Forward on 'Mont Mercou'

Written by Catherine O'Connell-Cooper, Planetary Geologist at University of New Brunswick
Mount Sharp as seen by the Curiosity

The top of “Mont Mercou” in front of the rover is visible in this image taken by the Left Navigation Camera on board NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3083. Mount Sharp is the white hill in the distance. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

Last week, Curiosity circled the base of "Mont Mercou," taking advantage of this rare opportunity to 3-D profile a large prominent outcrop, before beginning the climb up the side of this 6-meter-high outcrop. For today’s planning, we found ourselves almost at the top, with a beautiful expanse of bedrock in our workspace and stunning views of the top of "Mount Sharp" off in the distance (the white hill in the above image). Our plan is to drill up here, a companion drill to the “Nontron” drill at the base of the outcrop. These paired drill sites (and resulting mineralogical data), combined with the extensive imagery acquired by Mastcam, will go a long way to help us understand the evolution of this outcrop.

As part of any drill campaign, we carefully investigate an area, sometimes finding the most “representative” drill site to reflect the bulk composition of the outcrop. For some of our previous drill locales, bedrock was homogeneous, with little evidence of veining for example, which makes choosing a drill target much easier. Here at Mont Mercou, this is definitely not the case! Bedrock in today’s workspace varied from nodule-rich (small circular or lenticular features) to nodule-poor and contained both white veins (typically calcium sulphate) and more unusual dark toned resistant “fins” of vein material – lots happening here, geologically speaking!

As APXS PUDL (Payload Uplink & Downlink Lead) today, my role was to assess the downlink from our target on Wednesday (“Puymangou,” which may be the remnant of the same type of dark veins we see in our current workspace) and to help pick today’s target. I looked for targets that would aid our drill selection next week but that are also safe for the APXS instrument. Those dark veins look really interesting but the fin-like morphology means that they can pose a danger to APXS if, for example, a pointed edge went up into the sensor. Eventually, we decided on a flat bedrock “Peyrignac” which we can brush with our DRT tool, centered on the nodule-poor bedrock, to analyze with APXS and MAHLI. Typically, DRT targets also have an offset APXS and MAHLI target, 18 mm from the center of the main target. Conveniently, the Peyrignac offset target should end up centered on nodule-rich bedrock, so this will give us a more complete idea of the composition here.

We will drive further onto the top of Mont Mercou on the second sol of this plan, and then Mastcam will image our terrain, with the aim of refining our drill target selection in the next plan, on Monday. With luck, we might even be drilling again by this time next week!

April 8, 2021

Sols 3083-3084: 'Mont Mercou,' in the Rear View

Written by Ashley Stroupe, Mission Operations Engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Part of Curiosity rover are visible in this Mars view

"Mont Mercou" as seen by Left Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3074. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

Sol 3081 will be a busy one for Curiosity. The rover is still near the transition between the "Glasgow" member and the sulfate-bearing unit; as this is a major geologic transition, the science team is trying to get as much data as possible before moving away.

First up, the rover is planning to do a “touch-and-go,” performing contact and targeted remote science before driving away. First, Curiosity will get some arm exercise in, doing APXS and MALHI observations of “Puymangou,” a dark spot on a bedrock slab in front of the rover. Science will test if the color difference represents a difference in composition relative to the nearby bedrock. For the Rover Planners (of which I am one today), this is a challenging target because it is small and a little raised relative to the surrounding parts of the rock. We also need to avoid the nearby pockets of sand trapped by the surface roughness of the rock. After the arm activities, Curiosity will stow the arm to prepare for driving.

Before driving away, there is a set of targeted science observations with Mastcam. In addition to a small 3x3 mosaic of the contact science target, we will take a large stereo mosaic of "Mont Mercou" from the southwest to get more views of the sedimentary structures of the ridge. In addition to all the images we have taken from other locations around Mont Mercou, this last set will enable us to build a complete 3-D model of it. In this same pre-drive time, ChemCam will also do a passive sky observation as part of our environmental suite.

Then, we say goodbye to Mont Mercou and begin our drive, about 30 meters to the south-southwest. The terrain in this area is both quite rocky and has patches of sand, providing another challenge for the Rover Planners. Curiosity will wind her way around some of the sharper rocks and bigger patches of sand in order to land on a high point that should provide a good viewshed for planning the next drive, as well as landing on some bedrock to enable contact science in the weekend plan. The Rover Planners (and Curiosity’s wheels) are definitely looking forward to being further south, where the terrain is more benign and our drives will no longer need to look like a slalom track.

After the drive, we will take some imaging to support the next drive, as well as some additional ChemCam observations of the sky and its calibration targets in order to continue to monitor the health of the instrument. Just around sunset, we will do another set of cloud observations with Mastcam and Navcam in the hopes of getting yet another spectacular image of the Martian cloudy skies, and a MARDI image of the ground below the rover. Finally, early the next morning we will do some more environmental observations, including a dust devil movie and a supra-horizon movie.

On the second sol of the plan, we do more environmental atmospheric observations of the sun, the horizon, more dust devil movies, as well as some twilight Mastcam images.

April 5, 2021

Sols 3081-3082: Easter Drill Hunt

Written by Mariah Baker, Planetary Geologist at Center for Earth & Planetary Studies, Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum
the "Mont Mercou" rock outcrop

The "Mont Mercou" rock outcrop in an image taken by the Left Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3079. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

The Easter holiday, which was observed yesterday in the United States, is often celebrated with traditional Easter egg hunts. On Mars, the Curiosity rover is on a hunt of her own, but instead of hunting for candy-filled eggs she’s hunting for our next drill target. Recently, the rover has been investigating the "Mont Mercou" rock outcrop (shown in the image above), and now she’s making her way around to the top of the outcrop to find a suitable place to drill. But there's always science to be done along the way!

Today, we planned two sols of rover activities with a drive in the middle. The science block on Sol 3071 included two Mastcam stereo mosaics of Mont Mercou, as well as ChemCam observations on a titanium calibration target. Navcam and Mastcam images will also be acquired to measure the amount of dust in the atmosphere. "Touch and go" contact science with the APXS and MAHLI instruments will be conducted on bedrock target "Orliac" before the rover executes a planned 19-meter drive. After the drive, the rover will acquire standard post-drive images of our next workspace with the Mastcam, Navcam, and MARDI cameras.

The untargeted science block on Sol 3072 included a long Navcam dust devil movie and a single Mastcam image to monitor accumulation of sediment on the rover’s deck. Both sols also included DAN and REMS measurements, as well as short science blocks around sunset for Navcam and Mastcam cloud imaging. In the coming sols, the rover will continue to collect even more data on the local geology and environment as she hunts for our next drill location on Mars!

April 2, 2021

Sols 3078-3080: A Sandy Stop Near ‘Mont Mercou'

Written by Kristen Bennett, Planetary Geologist at USGS Astrogeology Science Center
A patch of sand and a 7-meter outcrop on mars

A patch of sand and a 7-meter sedimentary outcrop are visible in this image taken by the Front Hazard Avoidance Camera (Front Hazcam) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3076. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

Curiosity is continuing to make her way around "Mont Mercou" to capture as many angles as possible of the 7-meter tall sedimentary outcrop. Today the rover stopped at a patch of sand (shown in the image above), so the science team divided our focus between the sand at our feet and the outcrop towering above us.

The plan includes many images of Mont Mercou. There are several Mastcam mosaics that cover the outcrop, including some stereo observations. There is also a ChemCam RMI, called “Montpeyroux,” of interesting sedimentary structures that are visible from this side of the outcrop.

The plan also focuses on the sand that is in the rover’s workspace. There are two contact science targets: “Scoor” on a ripple crest and “Garve” on a trough. Mastcam and MAHLI will each take images of these targets, while APXS will focus on Garve.

Finally, Curiosity will drive further around Mont Mercou. At first the rover will drive just a little bit and use MAHLI to image the wheels as they turn. Next, Curiosity will complete a longer drive to continue circling around to the top of Mont Mercou.

March 31, 2021

Sols 3076-3077: Dancing Around 'Mont Mercou'

Written by Mark Salvatore, Planetary Geologist at University of Michigan
Mont Mercou on Mars

"Mont Mercou" as seen by the Left Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3074. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

Curiosity is continuing her investigation of "Mont Mercou," the tall outcrop of bedded sedimentary rock seen in the attached image. The science team has been navigating around the base of the cliff after having successfully drilled into the "Nontron" bedrock target last week. By imaging the cliff at different viewing geometries, we are able to change both position and illumination conditions, helping us to fully map the observed structures and properties of these sedimentary rocks.

In this plan, the team has identified a nodular bedrock target to characterize using the APXS instrument on the rover’s arm, which will provide information about the chemical make-up of this bedrock material. Curiosity will also be acquiring many images using both the ChemCam and Mastcam instruments, as we are now on the eastern side of the cliff face. Following these observations, Curiosity will then navigate to the western side of the cliff face to perform a similar suite of imaging observations.

As has been mentioned in previous posts, these sorts of rock outcrops, where we can see bedding from multiple angles, are a treasure for geologists as we try to unravel the ancient environmental conditions that were once present in Gale crater. The team is cognizant of the value of this outcrop, and so we are making sure to acquire all of the observations that we need before driving away from this location.

March 29, 2021

Sols 3074-3075: Forecasting High Chance of Clouds at 'Mont Mercou!'

Written by Catherine O'Connell-Cooper, Planetary Geologist at University of New Brunswick
Twilight clouds over "Mont Mercou" on mars

Twilight clouds over "Mont Mercou" as seen by the Right Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3072. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

We are finishing up at the "Nontron" drill locale and moving onto the next stage of investigating the beautiful "Mont Mercou" outcrop. We continue our usual cadence of looking at compositions and textures today, using both MAHLI and APXS to investigate the bedrock target “Bara Bahau.” Before moving onwards, Mastcam is taking another opportunity to get some close-up imaging of the extensive laminations on the cliff face, likely the last time we will be this close.

In today’s plan, we will drive around to the east side of the cliff and get into position to take Mastcam images of that side in Wednesday’s plan. Once we have documented that side, we will drive back across the front of the outcrop and image the western side. This will provide us with a unique 3-D perspective on this cliff and will hopefully help our scientists to understand how this amazing outcrop formed.

The Environmental Theme Group (ENV) and Mastcam planned another twilight cloud movie for sol 3074, similar to that on sol 3072, which resulted in the incredible image of clouds above Mont Mercou, shown above. We are at the beginning of Gale crater’s cloudy season, and in the middle of a period where the potential for the formation of twilight clouds is higher than usual. ENV are taking advantage of this to observe and analyze clouds and cloud formations.

March 26, 2021

Sols 3071-3073: Get Closer to 'Mont Mercou,' but Do it Backwards

Written by Abigail Fraeman, Planetary Geologist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Black and white view of Mars

This image was taken by Right Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3063. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

Curiosity will be driving again this weekend after completing drilling activities at “Nontron,” but we won’t be going very far. On the second sol of the three-sol weekend plan, Curiosity will turn in place and then back up a couple meters to get the rear of the rover as close as possible to the ~20-foot tall "Mont Mercou." Placing our back to the cliff may seem counterintuitive since all of the science cameras and arm are on the front of the rover. However, the purpose of this drive is to enable us to observe the cliff with an instrument on the back on the rover called DAN. DAN, which is short for Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons, detects the amount of hydrogen (a proxy for water) in the vicinity of the rover. Usually, DAN can just sense the terrain directly below Curiosity, but being in the vicinity of a tall cliff gives us a rare opportunity to observe both the ground underneath and the ground rising up next to the rover. Collecting DAN data after our drive will give us a better understanding of the composition of the materials in the cliff, and it will help understand how local topography affects DAN measurements.

We put together a jam-packed weekend plan in addition to the drive. In the first sol of the plan, we’ll monitor dust in the atmosphere and collect MAHLI and APXS data on targets named “Chassenon.” We’ll do even more science in the evening by collecting late evening images of Phobos, imaging the CheMin inlet, and collecting APXS data from the drilling tailings. On the second sol of the plan, we’ll take a MAHLI image of the drill tailings and lots of Mastcam images before we drive in the early afternoon. Curiosity will also collect some cloud observations before going to bed for the evening. Finally, on the third sol of the plan, we’ll take more images to monitor the atmosphere and collect a lot of DAN data. Whew! What a weekend!

March 25, 2021

Sols 3069-3070: Smile!

Written by Michelle Minitti, Planetary Geologist at Framework
A hole in a Martian rock drilled by Curiosity

This image was taken by Mast Camera (Mastcam) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3056 (2021-03-12 05:53:39 UTC). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS. Download image ›

With a successful drill campaign at “Nontron” in the books, the team continued to wrap up drill hole observations and also grab some final observations of the interesting materials that mark this area. ChemCam will acquire a passive spectra of sulfate-bearing buttes beckoning to us from farther up "Mount Sharp." Mastcam will image the sand targets “Thenac” and “Thenon” to look for wind-induced changes, and the target “Creyssac,” a coherent crack in nearby sand to watch how - or if - it changes. Mastcam and Navcam will both monitor the amount of dust in the atmosphere, and Navcam will acquire a movie looking for dust devils. RAD, REMS, and DAN maintain their steady watch over the Gale crater environment through the plan. MAHLI will image both spots that APXS analyzed on the pile of discarded Nontron drill sample in the last plan.

After the Nontron sample, MAHLI will team up with APXS for a multi-spot analysis, or raster, on the “Chassenon” target. We most commonly associate rasters with ChemCam, as moving through multiple spots in succession - sometimes in a grid, sometimes in a line - is how ChemCam analyzes a given target. Such rasters take 20-30 minutes, depending on the number of points in the raster. A raster with APXS and MAHLI takes much longer! MAHLI and APXS are both at the end of the rover arm, so each MAHLI image and each APXS analysis relies on the arm and turret to gently and accurately place the instruments where the science team wants them to go. Those arm motions are slow and careful, as you would expect if you were operating a 2-meter long arm weighing nearly 100 kilograms! The resulting data, though, make the effort worth it. The Chassenon target is the white-gray-white striped feature at the edge of the bedrock block to the left of the drill hole in the image above. If we only obtained a single APXS analysis over the center of Chassenon, the resulting chemistry would be a mix of that of the feature, the sand to its left, and the bedrock to its right. By adding two additional analyses - one slightly shifted off the center to get a mix of the feature and the surrounding bedrock, one over only bedrock - we can better isolate the chemistry of the feature. That is done by combining the chemistry from the APXS analyses with the proportions of materials in each APXS field of view, as determined with the MAHLI images that accompany each APXS analysis. The manner in which the chemistry varies with those proportions allows the chemistries of the individual materials to be separated.

We anticipate leaving our Nontron drill site in the next few sols, and just as you might snap one last picture of a memorable vacation spot, MAHLI will wrap up the plan with a rover selfie featuring the spectacular “Mont Mercou” in the background. Smile, Curiosity!