July 27, 2021

Sols 3190-3191: Divide and Conquer

Written by Michelle Minitti, Planetary Geologist at Framework
This is a black and white image of the rocky surface of Mars. There is a very rough, textured large rock in the top right corner of the image. The surface surrounding the rock is smooth, sandy and dusty with small rocks scattered all over. Some parts of the rock are peering through the sand in the center and the bottom of the image. Curiosity’s left tire can be seen in the bottom right crooner of the image.

This image was taken by Left Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3188. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

Our weekend drive completed successfully, landing us north of a ~15 m tall butte that we had imaged the east side of over the weekend. The new parking position gave us a new angle on the butte. Seeing structures from multiple angles helps geologists unravel the story of their formation by revealing their layers in three dimensions. The challenge of today’s plan was that the large Mastcam mosaic we wanted to acquire of the butte was best taken early in the day, before the butte began to cover itself in its own shadow, and this window of time overlapped the best time to acquire APXS data before our drive. Rather than having to pit APXS against Mastcam, we were allowed to try something relatively unusual. Typically, when we analyze a target with APXS before a drive, we acquire MAHLI images of the same target immediately after APXS is done. Today, we broke up APXS and MAHLI, putting the desired Mastcam imaging and other remote science observations after APXS. MAHLI was then scheduled after the remote observations, but before the drive. This allowed all the observations to occur at times that would benefit them - wins all around!

APXS and MAHLI will analyze a patch of relatively smooth bedrock, "Fressignas," to systematically record bedrock chemistry as we climb up Mount Sharp. In addition to the large butte mosaic, Mastcam acquired a small mosaic of a bedrock slab right of the rover (image above), dubbed "Creysse," which exhibited a combination of lineations and resistant features that added to the variety of textures we have seen over the last several weeks. ChemCam acquired a small RMI mosaic of yet another wonderful structure, "Mescoules," a delicate arch of rock that appeared to be made of a concentration of the resistant nodules so common in the local bedrock. ChemCam will analyze the chemistry of a linear horizon of resistant nodules at the target "Loubejac" to continue our investigation of what makes these nodules stand out from the bedrock that hosts them.

After a drive that we hope will be extended in distance by Curiosity’s autonomous navigation capabilities, ChemCam will acquire chemistry from an autonomously-selected target, and we will turn our attention to the atmosphere. APXS will acquire a measurement of argon in the Mars atmosphere, Navcam and Mastcam will measure the amount of dust in the atmosphere, and Navcam will shoot a movie in search of dust devils. These dedicated atmospheric observations take place over a background of regular RAD, REMS, and DAN measurements that keep their finger on the pulse of the Gale crater environment.

July 23, 2021

Sols 3187-3189: Examining a Linear Ridge

Written by Ken Herkenhoff, Planetary Geologist at USGS Astrogeology Science Center
The Curiosity rover took this black and white image of a hill with rocks on the surface of Mars.

This image was taken by Left Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3185. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

The Sol 3185 drive went well, placing the rover near a low, linear ridge shown in the lower left part of the above image. This ridge attracted the attention of the tactical science team so several observations of it are included in the 3-sol weekend plan, starting with a ChemCam LIBS raster on a dark, rough target named "Chalagnac" and a Mastcam 5x2 stereo mosaic of the area surrounding Chalagnac. Mastcam will also take a 5x1 stereo mosaic of a nearby trough before the arm activities begin. The DRT will be used to brush dust off a bedrock target dubbed "Chauffour" and ChemCam's RMI will be used to take pictures of the drill bit to look for changes. MAHLI will then take full suites of images of Chauffour and a nearby darker target called "Le Manet," then the APXS will be placed on Le Manet for an evening integration and on Chauffour for a longer overnight integration. The resulting data should be useful in measuring differences in the chemical composition of these targets.

On the second sol, Mastcam will acquire a big stereo mosaic of a butte to the west of the rover, then ChemCam will fire its laser at a bedrock target named "Campsegret" and acquire a 10x1 RMI mosaic of layering exposed in a cliff face toward the south. Mastcam will then take a documentation image of the Campsegret laser spots, a multispectral observation of the Chauffour brushed spot, and measure the dust in the atmosphere above the rover by imaging the Sun. Navcam will then search for dust devils and clouds and measure the dust opacity within Gale Crater. A drive toward the southwest is then planned, followed by the standard post-drive imaging of the terrain surrounding new rover location.

The third sol begins with a ChemCam LIBS observation of an autonomously-selected target and a CheMin maintenance activity. Later that afternoon, Mastcam will acquire a 13x2 stereo mosaic of a butte toward the southeast of the expected post-drive location and Navcam will survey the sky. Early in the morning of Sol 3190, Navcam will again search for clouds and Mastcam will again measure the dust in the atmosphere above the rover and across Gale Crater. Another busy weekend for our intrepid explorer!

July 22, 2021

Sols 3185-3187: A Pivoted Plan!

Written by Catherine O'Connell-Cooper, Planetary Geologist at University of New Brunswick
This image was taken by Mast Camera (Mastcam) of the APXS sensor head onboard NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3183.

This image was taken by Mast Camera (Mastcam) of the APXS sensor head onboard NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3183. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS. Download image ›

On Monday, blogger Melissa mentioned an unexpected scuff in the soft drill fines, presumably made by APXS. We had not planned to make contact, so Mastcam took some images in Monday’s plan to make sure that APXS was in good health. The image above shows the APXS sensor head, looking healthy, if a little dusty – that is what almost nine (!!) years of hard work will do for you!

Today's plan was a typical “Touch and Go” plan, where we do some early morning analysis on the workspace in front of us, followed by a drive to the next location. Our drive from Monday’s plan came up a little short of where we had planned to be, but fortunately brought us to a beautiful workspace, filled with elongated raised features, crosscut by a series of white vein features perpendicular to the raised features. It’s a really interesting pattern, very evenly spaced out.

As APXS science planner today, I was happy to see that some of the linear features were reachable by APXS and MAHLI. We picked a relatively flat appearing target and a name (“Javerlhac”) and thought we were set up for some nice science. Unfortunately, towards the end of planning, we realised that the topography was not quite as flat as it appeared in the workspace images, and not as suitable for APXS, so we had to make the tough call to pull it.

Pulling an activity at the last minute is definitely not ideal. The plans we send up to Curiosity are always jam packed, with every minute accounted for. Some days, we spend long hours finessing plans just to gain a couple of minutes, and removing this short APXS meant that about 35 minutes of time were now not being used. No one likes to waste time on Mars, so the GEO theme group had to pivot quickly, scrambling to take advantage of the extra time. MAHLI decided to continue with the plan to image Javerlhac. Mastcam expanded images in the workspace, including Javerlhac, and added multispectral images of the ChemCam LIBS target "Rampieux" and of a target “Prats de Carlux” just outside of the workspace.

Once our early morning science goals are met, we will drive onwards. Our current driving path takes us close to and then between a series of buttes (similar to mesas). Some environmental activities round out the plan, monitoring dust in the atmosphere, and looking for dust devils.

July 19, 2021

Sols 3183-3184: A 'Pressing' Situation

Written by Melissa Rice, Planetary Geologist at Western Washington University
This is a colored image of sand and rock scattered on a smooth surface. On the center of the image, a smooth circular surface is present.

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 July 17, 2021, Sol 3180 of the Mars Science Laboratory Mission. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS. Download image ›

The science team is dealing with a pressing situation today – quite literally! In the MAHLI image above, you can see a flat, smooth region in middle of the Pontours dump pile, where it looks like something pressed into the loose, fine-grained material. What caused this mark is a mystery; although Curiosity’s arm instruments investigated the dump pile last week, neither MAHLI nor APXS were supposed to come into direct contact with the surface. One possibility is that dump pile was taller than expected, and so APXS could have pressed slightly into the material, even though it was expected to just hover above the surface. In case that’s what happened, the team today planned for Mastcam to take images of the arm and APXS on sol 3183, to make sure none of the material got stuck to the instrument.

The mystery is not so pressing as to delay Curiosity from continuing on her journey. Sol 3183 has the rover leaving the Pontours drill site, continuing to drive uphill amidst the towering hills of Mount Sharp. Before driving, Curiosity will make some final investigations of the Pontours vicinity, including APXS and MAHLI observations of "Montagenet" (a dark-toned surface coating), a ChemCam observation of "Montagrier" (a dark-toned, thin blade of rock), and long-distance RMI observations of the bedding in the hills at "Le Coly" and on Rafael Navarro Mountain. On sol 3184, Curiosity will make an automated AEGIS ChemCam observation and complete several atmospheric monitoring activities.

July 17, 2021

Sols 3180-3182: Wrapping Up at Pontours

Written by Vivian Sun, Planetary Geologist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory
This is a colored image of the sandy, rocky surface of Mars. There are some large textured rocks with light shinning on them. The rough texture of the rock is emhpasized by tiny shadows on the rock. The large rocks are on a grainy sand-like surface.

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 July 15, 2021, Sol 3178 of the Mars Science Laboratory Mission. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS. Download image ›

As with all 3-sol plans we prepare on Fridays, we packed today's plan with activities to make sure that Curiosity has plenty to do over the weekend! Curiosity is wrapping up her most recent drill campaign on "Pontours" while thoroughly documenting her surroundings.

As you will tell from the number of target names in this blog, this plan was packed! Picking the names for the targets is an aspect of planning that I always look forward to – in between planning these activities, we also learn a lot about the locations on Earth from which these names originate.

Over the weekend we will be completing the drill campaign by collecting MAHLI, APXS, and Mastcam multispectral observations of the dumped sample to document its texture and composition. We will also be taking a closer look at a nodule called "Chanterac" (image linked above) using MAHLI and APXS; these observations will use a rastering technique which will help us deconvolve signals from the nodule versus signals from the bedrock.

Other observations include Mastcam and/or Supercam on: "Bouzic," a cluster of dark rock fragments; "Ponteyraud" and "Bussiere Galant," two areas with nodules and other alteration textures; and "La Jemaye," an example of less-altered bedrock to contrast with the diagenetic observations. We will also acquire two mosaics on targets "Tremolat" and "Villetoureix," which are rocks peppered with abundant diagenetic features, and on "Lolme," a trough filled with sand. Atmospheric activities spread throughout the weekend include numerous Navcam observations and a dust devil survey and movie, as well as a ChemCam passive sky and Mastcam full tau observations.

July 14, 2021

Sols 3178-3179: What Time Is It…

Written by Susanne Schwenzer, Planetary Geologist at The Open University
This is a black and white image of the sandy landscape of Mars. The front of the image displays a part of the Curiosity rover. About a handful of large rocks of different textures are to the left of the image. There are many hills dimly  displayed in the background.

Seeing our rover and its instruments in context with the Martian landscape never stops to inspire, seen here the rover turret with APXS pointing upwards at the parking location for the “Pontours” drill hole. This image was taken by Right Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3177. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

'We are expecting to hear from them at 11 am' – well, that was said at 5 pm local time for me, serving as GeoSTL today. Our little discussion about 'whose 11 am' we were talking about is once more a reminder how our international team is spread across our home planet! In today’s planning, like on most planning days, we are spread as far as from Pasadena in California, where JPL - our home base - is, to France, where many ChemCam team members are operating from, with many SAM team members at the East coast of the US, and your today’s blogger in the UK somewhere in between. That’s a spread from Pacific daylight time to Central European summer time, in other words 9 time zones… and of course it was 11 am in Pasadena that we were talking about! But, back to Mars, where we are planning the activities for two sols today, luckily all in one time zone, and only with the orbiter timescales for uplinks and downlinks to consider.

APXS and MAHLI will start the day looking at the drill fines of the "Pontours" drill hole. Check out Lucy’s blog from sols 3171-3172 for more details. As Lucy said, it’s our 32nd drill hole – and sitting in an exciting and very interesting looking area.

Around the drill site, we have spotted many different textures and colours; and as we know from being on Mars for over 3100 sols now, different colours and textures may mean interesting discoveries. Therefore, we have decided for Curiosity to investigate the more reddish features spotted on a rock close to the rover with ChemCam, investigating a target called "Belcayre." There are also darker features on the same rock, which Curiosity will have ChemCam target "La Bastide" on. Mastcam is targeting "La Bastide" as well, adding multispectral information to the dataset. Mastcam is also targeting "Lempzours," which is a resistant feature in the distance. The mosaic will expand an existing mosaic to give us even more information on the many textures in this scene. Make sure to check out the raw images section, especially if you are interested in rock textures.

July 12, 2021

Sols 3176-3177: It's a Beautiful Day on Mars, Let's Plan Two!

Written by Sean Czarnecki, Planetary Geologist at Arizona State University
This is a black and white image of the rocky surface on Mars. In the center of the image there is a small dune of sand and rock.There is also another much darker rock to the left. In the background the smoothness of the sand and hills is displayed.

This image was taken by Right Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3174. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

Baseball starts its All Star Break today, but in the grand tradition of the doubleheader, the MSL team decided to plan two sols where only one was scheduled!

In our double-size plan today, we have a stacked lineup of science observations. Leading off, ChemCam and Mastcam go back-to-back with shots to the target "Berbiguieres." Our big bat in the middle of the lineup today is SAM, which turns up the heat for an evolved gas analysis of the recently drilled "Pontours" sample.

Of course we always have to keep an eye on the weather, so we take a break for Navcam to look for dust devils and observe the horizon. Confident that we won't be rained out, we move back up to the top of the lineup. And the hits just keep coming with Mastcam images of target "Lolme" and the "Pontours" drill hole. Then ChemCam and Mastcam get their shots in again, this time on target "Proumeyssac." We round out our All-Star lineup with standard background data collection from DAN, REMS, and RAD.

July 9, 2021

Sols 3173-3175: Cleaning CheMin

Written by Ken Herkenhoff, Planetary Geologist at USGS Astrogeology Science Center
This black and white image shows a quarter-size drill hole on the rocky, sandy surface of Mars. Curiosity's shadow is also present in the bottom left corner of the image.

This image was taken by Mast Camera (Mastcam) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3171. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS. Download image ›

Late in planning Wednesday the data needed to confirm that it was safe to drop some of the latest drill sample into CheMin were received, so no changes to the Sol 3171-3172 plan were needed. Early this morning, the results of the planned CheMin analysis were received, and the team determined that no further analysis was needed. So the CheMin team decided to dump the sample and clean out the cell in preparation for future mineralogical analyses. SAM decided to analyze the Pontours drill sample, so a SAM preconditioning activity was added to the 3-sol weekend plan. The variety of options for the weekend plan and the need to make tactical decisions this morning made it an interesting day for me as SOWG Chair! Once the path forward was agreed upon and the high-priority CheMin and SAM activities scheduled, the uplink team turned to planning other activities, of which there are many: On Sol 3173, Mastcam will acquire multispectral images of "Chanterac," a potential APXS target, before ChemCam uses its laser to analyze the wall of the Pontours drill hole and acquires spectra of freshly disturbed sand at "Cendrieux." Mastcam will then document the LIBS holes in Pontours and take a 12x2 stereo mosaic of fractured and lineated terrain dubbed "Le Coly." Finally, CheMin will dump the drill sample.

Observations on the next sol begin with Navcam searching for dust devils and measuring dust in the lower part of the atmosphere. Then Mastcam will acquire a 10x1 stereo mosaic of possible alteration features at "Bussac" before ChemCam uses LIBS again, this time on a bedrock block with lots of nodules called "Archignac." ChemCam will also acquire spectra of another nodular target called "Fergeas" and the Right Mastcam will document the LIBS spots on Archignac. The rover will then take a nap before the SAM preconditioning in the evening.

The Sol 3175 plan begins with a Navcam dust devil movie and Mastcam measurements of dust in the atmosphere above the rover. ChemCam will then fire its laser again, this time at "Augignac," another nodular bedrock target, followed by Right Mastcam documentation of the LIBS spots. Later in the afternoon, when lighting of targets east of the rover will be better, the ChemCam RMI will take a 10x1 mosaic of layering in the flank of Mt. Sharp. Mastcam will then acquire a 4x1 stereo mosaic of the layering, and Navcam will survey the sky. Early in the morning of Sol 3176, Navcam will search for clouds and again measure the dust in the lower part of the atmosphere. Finally, Mastcam will also measure dust at various levels in the atmosphere. If all goes well, MSL will be very busy this weekend!

July 7, 2021

Sols 3171-3172: Bingo, Drill Hole #32 on Mars!

Written by Lucy Thompson, Planetary Geologist at University of New Brunswick
This black and white image shows the Curiosity rover's shadow over a drill hole  on the rocky, sandy surface of Mars.

This image was taken by Right Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3170. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

Despite not getting all the expected data down in our decisional pass this morning, we did receive enough information to confirm that we successfully drilled our 32nd hole on Mars, "Pontours." The missing data is expected to come down in the next pass, but at the time of writing this blog we are still some time away from that downlink. Without that information, we are not able to proceed with the planned drop of the drilled sample to CheMin. However, the team decided to plan for success, with the caveat that the downlink data may result in the drop to CheMin not taking place. If we do drop to CheMin, we will analyze the sample to determine the mineralogy. Will we see changes associated with the transition into the basal sulfate-bearing unit?

Regardless of whether we drop to CheMin, the science team was still able to plan a number of scientific observations to help monitor the atmosphere, detect changes in our workspace associated with the drill activities, and continue to characterize the terrain around us. The nodular “Douville” and smoother “Coubjours” rock targets in the workspace will be analyzed by ChemCam LIBS and imaged by Mastcam to look for any changes in chemistry associated with the nodules. We will acquire Mastcam multispectral data on the fresh, "Pontours" drill fines surrounding our new drill hole and a ChemCam RMI image of the drill hole to facilitate future targeting. Curiosity will also take a number of Mastcam and Navcam observations to monitor the atmosphere.

As the APXS strategic planner, I had a relatively quiet day from a planning perspective. We are not able to use the APXS while we have drill sample cached. However, I made good use of the time by starting to plan APXS observations we would like to make before we leave this location. This involves advocating for the observations to the rest of the MSL science team and interfacing with the rover engineers to plan the measurements. We are also eagerly awaiting being able to analyze the drill powder with APXS to compare with the mineralogy determined by CheMin.

July 6, 2021

Sol 3170: Drilling… and Some Science on Top!

Written by Mariah Baker, Planetary Geologist at Center for Earth & Planetary Studies, Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum
Nasa's Mars rover Curiosity acquired this image using its Left Navigation Camera on Sol 3165, at drive 1992, site number 89.
This image was taken by Left Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3165. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

After a few sols of preparation, the rover is ready to execute her next drill on Mars! Since drilling and associated characterization activities can eat up a lot of power, the team didn’t anticipate being able to do much else in tosol’s plan. But an unexpected “power gift” (when the rover uses less energy than we had budgeted in the previous plan) allowed us to schedule almost an hour of additional science time – a welcome surprise!

To take advantage of this opportunity, the team scheduled a small set of observations to study the local geology and environment. Two Mastcam mosaics were planned, one covering a small butte and another covering a patch of bedrock with linear nodule features. A ChemCam RMI observation will be used to get a closer look at a distant rock outcrop (shown in the Navcam image above), and a set of Navcam images will be used to characterize ongoing cloud activity. If all goes according to plan, we’ll have a new drill hole on Mars by tomorrow… as well as some bonus science data to boot!