November 24, 2020

Sols 2951-2953: Pre-Holiday Scramble

Written by Michelle Minitti, Planetary Geologist at Framework
slope on Mars

This image was taken by Left Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 2950. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

Our weekend drive stopped a bit shorter than planned when Curiosity played it safe rolling up a particularly steep (~20 degrees) slope pictured above. But even with the rover parked at a tilt, we could still accomplish all our desired science at this stage of our drive back up Mount Sharp. We will grab another observation of rock texture and chemistry with MAHLI and APXS, respectively, of “Saughieside Hill,” part of the bedrock making up the arcuate benches we have been traversing over the last couple of weeks. ChemCam will measure the chemistry of another nearby bedrock target, “Gathersnow Hill,” which sits at the edge of the lip that halted Curiosity’s drive. Mastcam will image the lovely layered structure of Gathersnow Hill in stereo, and more broadly, will acquire mosaics that capture the structures of the bedrock both behind and ahead of us. ChemCam also gets in on the imaging action, taking a small RMI mosaic of stratigraphic features in the target “Hamar.” After a ~30 meters drive, Curiosity will image the area around her with Navcam and Mastcam in preparation for activities over the upcoming American Thanksgiving long weekend, as well as the sky with a late day Mastcam image to measure the amount of dust in the atmosphere and a Navcam movie looking for clouds.

On Sol 2952, we will acquire an autonomously-targeted ChemCam analysis of the bedrock near the rover at our new post-drive location, a midday Navcam measurement of the amount of dust in the atmosphere, and a Navcam movie looking for clouds.

On the final sol of the plan, we have an environmental monitoring extravaganza with a ChemCam passive observation of the sky, Navcam and Mastcam measurements of the amount of dust in the atmosphere, Navcam images and movies to look for dust devils, and an APXS measurement of atmospheric argon. DAN, RAD, and REMS run regularly across the three sols of the plan. All told, Curiosity will stay as busy as a shopper hitting those early Black Friday deals.

November 24, 2020

Sols 2954-2957: Rest and Be Thankful

Written by Fred Calef, Planetary Geologist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory
The "Rest and Be Thankful" target is located up and to the left of the image center.

The "Rest and Be Thankful" target is located up and to the left of the image center. This image was taken by Left Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 2951. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

We're planning four Martian days covering sols 2954 through 2957 ahead of the U.S. holiday break. Holidays, for me, are times to celebrate, reflect, or mourn. For some, it can be all three at once. In honor of Native American Heritage Month, I'd like to share a quote from Paula Peters of the Mashpee Wampanoag: "We are still here to acknowledge them, learn from them, talk about them, and give gratitude to the creator for them." While the "them" was in reference to the material objects from their culture that endures to this day, I think "them" can also mean our loved ones past and present.

Today, the science team reflected on the rocks on one of the many "benches" we're traversing over on our way to significant sulfate outcrops identified from orbit. Over the planning sols, we'll take five ChemCam observations named after the Scottish locations "Achnagarron" ("Field of the Geldings"), "Achnaha" ("Field by the Stable"), "Achnacarry" ("Field by the Wier"), "Achininver" ("Field by the River Mouth"), and "Achnasau" ("Field with the Barns") along with Mastcam documentation images of each. Additional observations include a Mastcam mosaic "along strike" (i.e. in the direction of the rock bedding plane) to the bench and a distant ChemCam RMI mosaic of the sulfates ahead. Before we drive off on sol 2956, the appropriate "Rest and Be Thankful" target, named after an actual location where hikers stopped in Scotland, will be cleaned by the Dust Removal Tool (DRT) and measured with APXS. Afterwards, we'll continue to drive ~75 meters towards the sulfates and take a Mastcam mosaic of the arm workspace in front of the rover, a Navcam cloud search movie, and a MARDI image looking at the rocks underneath the rover.

I recommend being like that target and "rest and be thankful" for the coming week.

November 20, 2020

Sols 2949-2950: It Never Rains in… Gale Crater

Written by Susanne Schwenzer, Planetary Geologist at The Open University
Mars surface

This image was taken by Left Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 2947. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

Here in the UK we are going into winter season, when raindrops on the window are the regular background music, accompanied by the noise of wind that can get quite fierce at times. While it doesn’t rain in Gale crater, Curiosity is quite familiar with wind, and she watches out for the atmospheric phenomena around herself. If you want to know why, remember that ‘before and during the dust storm’ set of images of the Duluth drill hole? Well, here it is again:

change in the color of light illuminating the Martian surface
Two images from the Mast Camera (Mastcam) on NASA's Curiosity rover depicting the change in the color of light illuminating the Martian surface since a dust storm engulfed Gale Crater. Full image and caption

Impressive, isn’t it? As we are again in the dust storm season, Curiosity monitors the environment even more closely, and in this plan there is a Navcam line of sight imaging activity and Mastcam basic tau, which are both to watch the opacity in the atmosphere. Those are not from the typical cadence of activities Curiosity performs outside the dust storm season but are added especially now due to the potential for increased regional dust activity. Curiosity also watches out for dust devils again in this plan. So, while it doesn’t rain at Gale crater, there is still a lot to watch out for!

On the rocky side, Curiosity will perform an APXS measurement on the target ‘Giova,’ which is a bedrock target. ChemCam will look at the same target and add to its portfolio of bedrock targets by investigating the targets ‘Green Blett’ and ‘Gribun.’ The team decided to focus on the bedrock because we are on the move again, and we are expecting to see changes in the bedrock chemistry as we travel along the landscape. The image above, peeking over the deck of Curiosity with Navcam, gives an impression of the laminated outcrops along the way. With so much to look at, Mastcam is really busy in this plan, imaging several of those outcrops, and taking a larger workspace image, too. On top of it all, and to the delight of the mineralogists like me, there also is a multispectral image of the target Giova – to be taken after the DRT and APXS activity. After so much atmospheric science, geochemistry and imaging for sedimentology, Curiosity gets on the road again, rolling along those beautiful benches and outcrops that have so much to tell about the geologic and geochemical history of Gale crater!

November 19, 2020

Sols 2947-48: Follow the Red Brick Road

Written by Scott Guzewich, Atmospheric Scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
Black and white view of Mars

This image was taken by Left Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 2943 (2020-11-16 03:47:36 UTC). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

We are continuing our “benches” mini-campaign and the current bench is spread out before us like a brick road on our way to our next stop. Curiosity is continuing to study these erosion-resistant rock layers as we drive steadily toward the sulfate unit of Mt. Sharp. In today’s plan, we passed on an opportunity for additional contact science and instead chose a variety of remote sensing with ChemCam and Mastcam. Outside of two nearby targets for ChemCam LIBS, ChemCam was looking forward to the sulfate unit with a long-distance image. In this way, ChemCam almost works like the rover’s binoculars to see detail in distant terrains!

In addition, I planned a long dust devil movie and cloud monitoring activities as ENV theme group lead. We also were able to include bonus ENV science today. To best maintain the rover’s battery, we like to maintain a medium-to-high level of charge, but not too close to 100% charged. In fact, on occasion, we keep the rover awake so the battery doesn’t get too close to fully charged. Now, we have a new science activity to include in the rover’s plan whenever this is needed. It’s a combination of our cloud and dust devil movies and today we’ll include it in the evening of Sol 2948 to look for both of these atmospheric processes.

November 17, 2020

Sols 2945-2946: Should We Stay or Should We Go?

Written by Mark Salvatore, Planetary Geologist at University of Michigan
Curiosity photo of ground on Mars

This image was taken by Front Hazard Avoidance Camera (Front Hazcam) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 2943. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

Curiosity will be staying busy for the next two days as the team continues to investigate the topographic “benches” as we move from the Glen Torridon region uphill towards the sulfate-bearing unit. Last week, Curiosity was positioned at the bottom of one of these benches looking at the geologic layers exposed along the side. Over the weekend, we drove around and on top of the same bench to capture a view from the top and to investigate the uppermost geologic layers. In the coming days, Curiosity will use its remote sensing instruments and the tools on her arm to investigate two spots on the top of the bench - one is a smooth portion of exposed bedrock while the other is a clearly layered rocky unit. The team had the opportunity to quickly study the top of this bench and then drive away up towards the next bench, but the team decided to stay at this location given the well-exposed rocks and the plethora of science that we can accomplish at this location. In addition, being on this topographically perched bench gives us a really stunning view and allows us to remotely characterize the geologic units that are ahead of us! Over the coming days, Curiosity will continue her drive up and over these benches, conducting additional analyses and imaging while we continue to make our way up Mt. Sharp.

November 13, 2020

Sols 2942-2944: How Much Do You Bench?

Written by Ryan Anderson, Planetary Geologist at USGS Astrogeology Science Center
Curiosity photo of ground on Mars

This image was taken by Right Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 2940. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

Yesterday’s drive brought us right up to a beautiful outcrop of layered rocks at “Stop 6” of our campaign to study the benches in this area, so we will spend the weekend doing everything we can to understand this outcrop. Benches like the ones we’re driving through in this area usually form when the bedrock consists of alternating layers of harder, more resistant rock and softer more “recessive” rock. At the current outcrop, we think we can see the transition from recessive to resistant rocks, so a priority was to collect chemistry measurements and high-quality images from both rock types.

Sol 2942 will begin with ChemCam observations of the targets “Devanha” on the recessive unit, “Taexali” on the resistant rocks, and “Clickimin” on the transition between the two. MAHLI will then take close-up images of two contact science targets: “St. Ninian” and “Geesa Water.” In the evening, APXS will make a short measurement on Geesa Water and an overnight measurement of St. Ninian.

The next sol will keep Mastcam very busy. After a short Navcam observation of the crater rim to measure dust in the atmosphere, Mastcam has a long series of observations, starting with a documentation image of the ChemCam target on Devanha and a multispectral image of the target Geesa Water and surroundings. This is followed by an 8x1 stereo mosaic of a scarp named “Munro” and a large 19x5 stereo mosaic of the whole outcrop in front of the rover. Next comes a smaller 3x2 stereo mosaic of some nearby bench-top layers at a location named “Walls Hill.” Mastcam then finishes up with an 11x3 stereo mosaic of another location with recessive layers known as “Area J.”

Once Mastcam finishes with all of that, the rover will make a short but somewhat tricky drive around the end of the outcrop and then back, to place the rover on top of the stack of rocks we’re currently looking at. We will do the usual post-drive imaging with Navcam, Mastcam, and MARDI to wrap up Sol 2943.

In Sol 2944, ChemCam will do some passive calibration observations followed by an autonomously-selected LIBS target off to the right of the rover. Navcam will then take a couple of movies looking for dust devils. Later in the afternoon, Mastcam will look at the sun to measure dust in the atmosphere and Navcam will watch for clouds. We’ll finish the sol by getting some data from CheMin

Finally, in the early morning of Sol 2945, Navcam and Mastcam will do a few more atmospheric observations to measure dust and look for clouds.

November 11, 2020

Sols 2940-2941: Curiosity Eyes a Comfortable 'Bench' to Park on for the Weekend

Written by Ashley Stroupe, Mission Operations Engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Curiosity’s shadow on Mars

Curiosity’s shadow can be seen in this image taken by the Left Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 2938. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

Today, Curiosity found herself parked in front of a beautiful "bench" outcrop. We took this beautiful image of the rover’s shadow falling on that outcrop. The benches in this area are raised relative to the nearby surroundings, indicating that they are more resistant to erosion than the surrounding rock. Investigating the compositions to explain this difference is one of the current science objectives, requiring us to investigate both the bench and the flatter ground nearby to compare.

Data from the second sol of plan won’t be down in time for Friday’s planning so we are fitting lots of activities into the first sol. First, we’re going to do some contact science on a target called "West Loch," which is a target on this apparently less resistant material near the base of the bench. While most of the workspace is fairly broken up, making most of the rocks too small for the Rover Planners to accurately target, this pebble is large enough to place the arm on and get good contact. It is still not big enough to safely or effectively brush, so we are only making MAHLI and APXS observations on the dusty surface. Along with the APXS and MAHLI observations, we’re doing a lot of targeted science with ChemCam and Mastcam at three targets ("Bood," "Black Mire," and "Dale") in and near the workspace to better characterize this less resistant layer.

When all the imaging is complete, the rover will do a short (about 6-7 meters) drive to get the vertical surface of the bench into reach for the arm. After the drive, we expect to be parked on the slope of the bench. We’ll be taking lots of up-close imaging of the bench to help us target in the weekend plan. This will allow us to do contact and targeted science observations on the resistant layers, which can then be compared to today’s analyses.

The second sol of plan will be untargeted science, including a two-target ChemCam AEGIS observation, which will allow the rover to pick its own targets to image and investigate with LIBS. Also included are several environmental and atmospheric observations, to continue our tracking of the dusty conditions, including a Mastcam tau sun observation and a Navcam line of site image, both to look at the amount of dust in the atmosphere, and a dust devil movie.

November 10, 2020

Sols 2938-2939: Eyes on the Prize

Written by Melissa Rice, Planetary Geologist at Western Washington University
Mt. Sharp on Mars

Mt. Sharp, as seen by the left Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 2936. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

Today Curiosity continues to investigate the stair-step-like “rock benches” as the rover climbs higher up Mt. Sharp. The image above shows different types of rocks in this area: “recessive” outcrops, which seem to erode more easily (some of these are poking out of the dark, sand-covered slope towards the bottom of the image); and “resistant” outcrops, which form the harder caps at the top of the benches (these form the line of broken rock at the top of the dark slope). The difference between the recessive and resistant rock layers is what has allowed the wind to carve them into benches over the eons. But what is the root cause of these differences? Are they fundamentally different rock types, or could they be the same material that was altered in different ways after the rock formed?

To answer these questions, the team will be looking for opportunities to investigate exposures of both the recessive and resistant rocks with multiple instruments. Today, sol 2938, Curiosity will study a resistant outcrop in front of the rover at a spot called “Hart Fell” with the MAHLI and APXS instruments, and then will use ChemCam to zap two other spots called “Breabag” and “Breck.” Using Mastcam, Curiosity will capture a sweeping color panorama of the bench seen in the image above. Next, Curiosity will drive onward, to a spot where we hope to encounter a good exposure of the recessive outcrop to study later this week. Tomorrow, sol 2939, Curiosity will monitor the environmental conditions with ChemCam and will use Navcam to scan the horizon for dust devils.

And all the while, we’re keeping our eyes on the prize: the layers of brighter rocks towering in the image above. As one of the mission’s Long Term Planners, it is my job to remind the team about the big-picture strategic plan to explore Mt. Sharp. So, even amidst these enigmatic rock benches, we will continue moving expeditiously towards the sulfate-bearing unit higher up the mountain. The scenery here is stunning – but the best is yet to come!

November 6, 2020

Sols 2935-2937: A Beautiful Day on Mars

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

This image was taken by Left Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 2933. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

Curiosity’s latest drive placed the rover on top of one of the “rock benches” that are present throughout the area, and the views up here are just gorgeous! There are dinner plate-sized patches of layered bedrock in the rover’s workspace, which are quite a contrast to the pebble filled workspace we saw at our last location. We can also see the next set of benches in the distance (see image above), and I think they look like meter-scale stair steps carved into the landscape.

In this three-sol weekend plan, we’re going to take advantage of the spectacular view up here and acquire a 108 frame Mastcam stereo mosaic. This mosaic will help us further distinguish the sedimentary structures preserved in the rocks in this unique topographic region and it will enable us to find the best areas for closer investigations in later sols. We will also take some time to learn more about the bedrock of the “benchtop” by collecting MAHLI and APXS observations of targets named “Muckle Minn” and “Hunt Hill,” and ChemCam observations of “Smugglers Cave,” “Achnashellach,” and “Achosnich.” We will supplement the mega-Mastcam mosaic with two smaller mosaics of areas near the rover named “Voe” and “Roe.” After completing our science activities, we’ll drive along the “benchtop” to the northeast for ~45 m and take a large set of post-drive images that will be used to help with planning on Monday. In parallel to all of these geological studies, we will continue to monitor the environment around the rover with a series of Navcam and Mastcam observations and standard set of pressure and temperature measurements.

November 4, 2020

Sols 2933-2934: Rubble, Rubble, Toil and Trouble?

Written by Lucy Thompson, Planetary Geologist at University of New Brunswick
The APXS placed on the “Rachan” target on Mars

APXS on the “Rachan” target, as seen in this image taken by the Front Hazard Avoidance Camera (Front Hazcam) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 2931 rubbly workspace. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

‘Tis the Halloween season! The rubbly terrain that Curiosity is currently driving over is reminiscent of other rubbly terrain encountered within the "Glen Torridon" area and continues to be relatively easy to drive on. Curiosity drove a further 32 meters away from the "Mary Anning" and "Groken" drill site in the previous plan. As we drive back towards the planned route to the sulfate unit, the main focus is to document the textures, relationships and chemistry of the rocks we encounter.

As the APXS Payload Uplink-Downlink Lead (PUDL) today, I was responsible for checking the APXS downlink from our previous plan when we analyzed the pebble “Rachan” from the Sol 2931 rubbly workspace, and then helping to plan and uplink the APXS measurement on the rock target “Mail Beach” in our current workspace. MAHLI will also take close-up images of Mail Beach and we will be able to compare the composition and texture to Rachan and other rocks from previous rubbly terrains within "Glen Torridon." We also planned a ChemCam LIBS measurement and accompanying Mastcam documentation imaging of the “Windy Standard” rock target, which will complement the APXS and MAHLI observations.

The science team also planned three large Mastcam mosaics (including “Corbett”) to document the textures and relationships between the more resistant bedrock ledges and the lower ground in this area. Do these ledges represent a slightly different rock type that was perhaps deposited in a slightly different environment to the more typical low relief terrain? Are they more cemented and harder than surrounding rocks as a result of post-depositional processes? Might they provide clues as to what is happening as we get closer to the sulfate unit, that we are on route to?

The planned drive tosol should take us to another of the resistant ledges for interrogation by many of Curiosity’s instruments in the upcoming weekend plan. To give us a hint at the chemistry of the rocks at the end of the drive, a post-drive ChemCam AEGIS observation will be acquired. A planned post-drive MARDI image will also give us a sense of what the ground beneath our wheels looks like.

The environmental group was also busy planning observations of the atmosphere. These include a Mastcam basic tau mosaic pointed towards the sun and a Navcam line of sight observation, dust devil survey and suprahorizon movie. Standard REMS, RAD, DAN passive and active measurements were also planned. Finally, CheMin will dump the Groken drill fines, as they are done with their analysis of the sample.