April 21, 2021

Sol 3096: Parked at 'Bardou' for the Next Steps on Drill Hole 31

Written by Susanne Schwenzer, Planetary Geologist at The Open University
Bardou drill hole on Mars

The 31st drill hole, named 'Bardou' is visible in this image taken by the Left Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3095. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

Drilling is always exciting, and the image above shows our 31st drill hole, named ‘Bardou.’ Have a look at yester-sol’s blog, where it also features prominently and was shown from a hazard camera perspective, tosol the image is from the left navigation camera. Can you spot the tiny hole? It’s just 0.6 inch in diameter, and I find it fascinating how structured the surface looks. There is a lot to see here, some things seem to be cross-cutting each other, which is always interesting. But it would be way too early to make any interpretation at this point. For now, we are looking forward to learning all about the mineralogy and chemistry of the sample. The next instruments to investigate it will therefore be SAM and CheMin, and CheMin will receive its sample in today’s plan.

While the chemical laboratory is busy with the preparation to measure this new sample, the cameras are continuing to look at the interesting features all around. ChemCam is peeking into the distance at what is mapped from orbit as the sulfate unit, to investigate textures in the units Curiosity will encounter in the future. Mastcam has a large mosaic in the plan to investigate the sedimentary structures around "Mont Mercou." In addition, there are environmental monitoring activities, looking at atmospheric opacity, dust devils and the clouds.

April 20, 2021

Sol 3095: 31 Flavors of Drilled Samples

Written by Abigail Fraeman, Planetary Geologist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory
A view of Mars taken by Curiosity

This image was taken by Front Hazard Avoidance Camera (Front Hazcam) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3094 (2021-04-20 04:02:30 UTC). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

We had a great morning on Curiosity planning today because we were greeted by an image of our newest drill hole, “Bardou!” Bardou is Curiosity’s 31st drilled sample, and for those of you keeping score at home, it’s also the 16th sample collected using our modified drilling technique and the seventh sample we’ve drilled while on entirely remote ops. Wowza.

Planning today was aided by a large “power gift” we received when it took less power to drill into the soft rock than we had anticipated. With all the extra energy, the team decided to have an extended remote sensing science block that included observations of the composition of the atmosphere using ChemCam, ChemCam passive spectra on the drill tailings, a Mastcam multispectral image of the drill tailings, and a Mastcam stereo mosaic of interesting textures nearby the rover. When we’re done with all of this remote sensing, Curiosity will drop portions of the drilled sample onto the closed SAM inlet cover so we can study the drilled material and prepare to deliver it to CheMin and SAM later this week. I’m looking forward to seeing what we find up here on top of "Mont Mercou!"

April 19, 2021

Sol 3094: Perseverance and Ingenuity Pay Off on Mars Again!

Written by Lucy Thompson, Planetary Geologist at University of New Brunswick
close up view of the Bardou drill target on Mars

NASA's Mars rover Curiosity acquired this image using its Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) on Sol 3092. The image was taken at ~35 centimeters standoff from the brushed drill target “Bardou” on top of "Mont Mercou," after the drill preload test. Download image ›

Congratulations to the Perseverance and Ingenuity teams on the first powered, controlled flight on another planet. This technology demonstration opens up new and exciting possibilities for the future of planetary exploration.

Meanwhile at Gale crater Curiosity is preparing to attempt drilling hole #31 (“Bardou”) on Mars, a feat we thought might not be possible more than 4 years ago when a key part of the drill stopped working. However, the perseverance, ingenuity and hard work of the JPL team meant that a work around was devised to enable drilling on Mars to resume more than a year later. We have since drilled a further 15 holes, doubling our inventory! Analysis of the “Bardou” drilled sample by CheMin, SAM and other instruments will help us to understand the transition from the clay-bearing rocks that we have been investigating in "Glen Torridon," to the overlying sulfate-bearing rocks that we are soon to encounter.

Power was low coming into this plan, and because the drilling activities consume a lot of power, there were no other science activities planned. Instead, the geology and environmental planning groups focused on desired activities in the upcoming plans and for the longer term.

As the APXS payload uplink/downlink and strategic planning representative today it was a relatively quiet day for me. I reported on the downlink and the health of the APXS instrument, but while drilling we are not able to deploy the APXS, which is also on the end of the arm. However, we did use the APXS data already acquired in this area to help inform the discussion of what we would like to do after drilling.

We will hopefully have confirmation of a new drill hole on Mars tomorrow!

April 17, 2021

Sols 3092-3093: Preparing to Drill!

Written by Mark Salvatore, Planetary Geologist at University of Michigan
Parts of the rover are visible in this view of Mars

This image was taken by the Front Hazard Avoidance Camera (Front Hazcam) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3090 (2021-04-16 02:07:47 UTC). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

Curiosity is ready to begin the drilling campaign on the "Bardou" drill target on top of "Mont Mercou!" The first day of this weekend's plan will consist of acquiring passive spectra on this drill target as well as additional context imaging for future targeting efforts. Later in the afternoon, Curiosity will deploy her arm to maneuver MAHLI into position for imaging. On the following sol, Curiosity will continue imaging her surroundings as well as a ChemCam calibration target, followed by several rounds of environmental imaging using both the Navcam and Mastcam instruments. These environmental observations will occur midday, in the evening, and in the early morning hours of the following sol before handing the plan over to the next planning phase. Stay tuned for some additional breathtaking images from this beautiful vantage point, as well as data from the next drill target on Mars!

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.