September 23, 2020

Sols 2892-2893: Images Are a Geologist's Best Friend!

Written by Susanne Schwenzer, Planetary Geologist at The Open University
A close-up view of Curiosity's instruments

This image was taken by the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), located on the turret at the end of the rover's robotic arm, on Sept. 22, 2020. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS. Download image ›

As we continue to finish our drilling activities – among other things by taking a look at the instrument inlets on top of the rover deck to make sure no sample is remaining on the mesh or elsewhere where we can see – we are already on the look out for the nearby target "Ayton." We want to drill there too, to follow up the chemical changes we have observed in the area. Maybe Mars is going to tell us something really interesting here? All those nodules must mean something, but just exactly what we cannot tell without full mineralogy. Geologists love images, but occasionally mineralogy is the other friend we want to see, too! One of the questions is in what ways the nodules are similar or different from nodules we have seen previously. And with "Mary Anning" drill holes so close by, we can also compare the two, which will further enhance our science opportunities. As a geochemist and modeler, I am certainly very excited and have sharpened the (digital) pencil to get going on my modelling as soon as I can!

In today’s plan, however, we do play with geologist’s best friend a lot: first, we wrap up some of the mosaic-observations we have started (and taken advantage of the fact that we stay in one place for a while during a drill campaign). Mastcam is adding two sets of stereo images to the tally at this location to further investigate the morphology of the workspace and to fill a gap at an interesting spot for a full analysis of the structures in the workspace. In addition, we continue our change detection observations at "Upper Ollach."

ChemCam is also used for imaging, doing a Remote Micro Imager long distance observation to extend the mosaic my fellow blogger Rachel has talked about.

APXS is looking forward and investigating a target near the new drill site at Ayton. The target’s name is "Underhoul" and APXS is accompanied by MAHLI investigations. ENV is still monitoring the atmosphere closely, with observations of the dust and opacity. Lots of images, happy dance from all geologists!

September 22, 2020

Sols 2890-2891: ChemCam Trifecta!

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

This image was taken by Left Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 2865. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

This week we are wrapping up our observations of the “Mary Anning 3” drill sample. On the first sol (Sol 2890) of today’s two-sol plan, we will perform “portion to exhaustion” (emptying the drill stem) and also empty the chamber behind the drill into a pile. This means that we will empty any remaining Mary Anning 3 sample onto the ground in front of us for assessment. We will closely document the material portioned and dumped out with Mastcam, and, later in the afternoon, take close-up MAHLI images of the dump pile. Overnight, we’ll place APXS on the dump pile to acquire geochemical information on the remaining drill material.

On the second sol (Sol 2891), we’ll have some time for remote science observations. A fun fact about the science block on Sol 2891: we will be utilizing the full capacity of our ChemCam instrument and perform a passive observation (i.e. no laser), LIBS (Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy) observations, and collect long-distance RMI (Remote Micro Imager) images – a ChemCam trifecta of sorts!

We will further characterize the Mary Anning 3 dump pile by performing Mastcam multispectral and ChemCam passive observations. We’ll then use ChemCam LIBS to assess nearby nodular bedrock target “Lunnasting” and bright target “Kleber.” We will also use ChemCam’s RMI to take a long-distance mosaic of “Housedon Hill,” a target first imaged on Sol 2880 and visible as the blocky hill in the background of the Navcam image above.

To round out the science block, we’ll take Mastcam documentation images of our LIBS targets Lunnasting and Kleber, as well as a nice big stereo mosaic to expand coverage of our surroundings. We will also perform some environmental monitoring observations with Navcam, including a line of sight image and dust devil survey. To close out our two-sol plan, we will perform a SAM Electrical Baseline Test (EBT), a routine activity to check SAM’s electrical systems.

September 18, 2020

Sols 2887-2889: OK CheMin, Now It's Your Turn!

Written by Lauren Edgar, Planetary Geologist at USGS Astrogeology Science Center
Surface of Mars taken by Curiosity

This image was taken by Right Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 2884. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

We’ve been talking a lot about SAM analyses of the “Mary Anning 3” sample, but in today’s 3-sol weekend plan, it’s CheMin’s turn to shine. The weekend plan is focused on dropping off part of the “Mary Anning 3” sample to CheMin and analyzing what minerals are present. The plan also includes preparing SAM for upcoming analyses by cleaning GC columns 1 and 2, and a script update. The weekend plan has plenty of time for remote sensing, which the Geology and Environmental theme groups were happy to fill with additional activities.

The plan starts with a Mastcam observation of the “Mary Anning 3” drill tailings to monitor the movement of fines by the wind. Then Curiosity will drop off portions of the drill sample to CheMin, which will be analyzed overnight from Sol 2888 into Sol 2889. The third sol hosts the majority of the remote sensing activities, starting with multiple ChemCam LIBS observations to look for variations in chemistry within typical bedrock and dark nodular outcrop, as well as ChemCam RMI mosaics to document stratigraphy and to investigate the feasibility of extracting stereo information from overlapping RMI images. Then Mastcam will document all of the ChemCam target locations and expand the workspace imaging to investigate nearby troughs and patterned ground. Navcam will follow-up with monitoring of fines on the rover deck, measuring dust in the atmosphere, and searching for dust devils. The plan also includes a science block on the morning of Sol 2890 devoted entirely to atmospheric monitoring during this dusty season on Mars. I’ll be on duty as SOWG Chair on Monday, so I’m getting caught up and looking forward to hearing what CheMin has to say about this sample!

September 16, 2020

Sols 2885-2886: Once More With MTBSTFA

Written by Michelle Minitti, Planetary Geologist at Framework
Mars rover Curiosity acquired this image using its Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI)

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 August 26, 2020, Sol 2864 of the Mars Science Laboratory Mission. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS. Download image ›

Based on the initial results from the SAM wet chemistry experiment from last week, the SAM team elected to complement it with a second wet chemistry experiment on the “Mary Anning 3” drill sample in today’s plan. The first experiment was run with the reagent tetramethylammonium hydroxide (TMAH), and the second will be run with the reagent N-methyl-N-(tert-butyldimethylsilyl)trifluoroacetamide (MTBSTFA) - shout out to Sol 2880 (link to that blog) blogger Ryan Anderson for these names! These are called wet chemistry experiments because SAM adds a liquid reagent to the sample before they analyze it. Each reagent reacts differently with the sample, so each experiment shines a slightly different light on what carbon-bearing compounds lie within the sample. Together, we get a fuller picture of the chemistry of the Mary Anning sample.

The SAM experiment is involved enough that it requires a dedicated sol in the plan, but the second sol of the plan was available for other observations. ChemCam targeted two cobbles, “Quoy” and “Skor,” which are similar to the larger rock fragments seen in the above image, to compare their chemistries to that of the coherent bedrock slabs in this area. ChemCam also targeted a white patch, “Lealt,” which resembles the white vein materials we have encountered in so much of our exploration of Gale crater. We once again targeted “Le Ceasnachadh” for a ChemCam passive observation. The gray bulbous materials that dot the top of this target are hard to hit when you are aiming from more than 5 m away, so we hope to land a few more points on these features in this effort. Navcam will scan the skies above us for clouds and dust devils, and will measure the dust load in the atmosphere. REMS, RAD, and DAN keep their regular watch on the environment around and below us throughout the plan.

September 15, 2020

Sol 2884: Waiting... but Not Idling!

Written by Catherine O'Connell-Cooper, Planetary Geologist at University of New Brunswick
This image was taken by Front Hazard Avoidance Camera (Front Hazcam) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 2883.

This image was taken by Front Hazard Avoidance Camera (Front Hazcam) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 2883. The "Mary Anning" drill holes are on the block in the centre of the image. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech Download image ›

We are busy beginning our analysis of data from the SAM TMAH experiment (see blog post 2880-2882) - the first of its kind on Mars! However, we are also keeping Curiosity busy. Although contact science using MAHLI and APXS is precluded at this stage in the drill campaign (while samples are in the drill stem), the ChemCam and Mastcam teams are both working diligently on a "bedrock survey" of the workspace. The block in the centre of the image, containing both "Mary Anning" drill targets, is geochemically homogenous. Conducting the TMAH experiment on top of our standard CheMin and SAM analyses required a greater amount of sample than we could collect from a single drill hole, so having a geochemically homogenous block was important in allowing us to collect samples with similar compositions from two different drills holes.

Beyond this block, targets are a little more heterogenous and show subtle variations in the concentrations of major element geochemistry. As the ChemCam LIBS instrument can analyze targets up to 7 metres from the rover, it is being used very intensively to document trends across the workspace, and Mastcam is taking supporting images of each ChemCam target. Today's plan includes ChemCam and Mastcam on a further two bedrock targets "Prestonpans" and "Clivocast," as we try to fill in gaps in the survey. Additionally, Mastcam will take three change detection images, one centred around the sandy target "Upper Ollach," a second image across the rover deck and another of the Mary Anning drill holes themselves.

ChemCam will also take some RMI (long distance) images of the "Housedon Hill" target, a raised feature to the east of the rover. Based on initial images taken on sol 2880, ChemCam is refining and targeting more specific areas so that we can investigate the relationship between apparent bedding planes and the surface of the feature, all from a distance of 400 metres!

The environmental theme group (ENV) segment of today's plan includes some Navcam dust devil movies, Mastcam "tau" measurements to determine the concentration of dust in the atmosphere, in addition to the standard REMS and DAN activities which are always peppered throughout a given plan.

September 14, 2020

Sol 2883: Still Taking in the Surroundings

Written by Michelle Minitti, Planetary Geologist at Framework
This image was taken by Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 2882.

This image was taken by Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 2882. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL. Download image ›

As the SAM team pores over their data from last week’s wet chemistry experiment on the "Mary Anning 3” sample, the rest of the team continued the comprehensive survey of the chemistry and mineralogy of our home since Sol 2829. We will revisit the mellifluously-named “Le Ceasnachadh,” pictured above, to acquire more passive ChemCam spectral data from the gray, bulbous layers that cover the top surface of the target. We will shoot both "Fountainhall” and “Sandlodge Mine” with the ChemCam laser to investigate their chemistries, as they are both adjacent to intriguing, previously-analyzed targets. Fountainhall is near the “Formartine” and “Foulden” targets, and Sandlodge Mine is a sandy swale near the “Ayton” target.

Navcam will acquire some images over one the communication passes in the plan, a test use of Navcam that might eventually allow us to obtain more science or drive farther in future plans. In each plan, we regularly take engineering camera images to help us document activities and monitor the state and position of the rover, and those images require time and power. The ability to use the engineering cameras over a pass means Curiosity can execute two activities - communicating and taking engineering images - in parallel rather than in series. This would leave more time and power for science observations or driving. In addition to this test imaging, Navcam will also contribute to the science in this plan, shooting a thirty minute dust devil movie. DAN will passively measure the ground under the back of the rover for a nice long four hour stretch. Our environmental instruments also have nice long measurement stretches - REMS will run for more than 10 hours and RAD will run the entire sol.

This fairly straightforward sol activity-wise also puts us in the best position to have sufficient power for whatever activities the rest of the week holds.

September 11, 2020

Sols 2880-2882: MSL's SAM TMAH A-Okay!

Written by Ryan Anderson, Planetary Geologist at USGS Astrogeology Science Center
Mars landscape

This image was taken by Right Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 2878. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

Our SAM TMAH experiment was successful! For those who don’t speak fluent rover team alphabet soup, as we described the other day, the SAM TMAH experiment is a long-awaited measurement by the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument, which uses a special chemical called tetramethylammonium hydroxide (TMAH*) to help identify organic (carbon-bearing) molecules in the sample. SAM only has two containers of TMAH, so we wanted to be very sure that this was the right place to use one of them before running the experiment. The team is now eagerly awaiting results which will take us several months to fully interpret.

Meanwhile, rover operations continue with a busy weekend plan! ChemCam will do an atmospheric observation as the Trace Gas Orbiter flies overhead, followed by a long-distance image mosaic of a target called “Housedon Hill.” Navcam will then look toward the crater rim to measure the amount of dust in the atmosphere and will look for dust devils. Mastcam also has a dust-measuring observation of the sun.

On Sol 2881 SAM will clean out its gas chromatograph (GC) column (the tiny tube through which gases are passed to separate them based on their chemistry), and then on Sol 2882 we have a recurring set of Navcam and Mastcam observations of the target “Le Ceasnachadh” (I wish we had an abbreviation for that name!) at different times of day. These repeated observations allow us to better understand the “photometry” or light-scattering behavior of the rocks.

On Sol 2882 Mastcam will also observe the target “Upper Ollach” and the Mary Anning drill tailings to look for any changes, and will do a multispectral observation of the photometry target “Le Ceasnachadh”. ChemCam will also observe that target using passive spectroscopy (no laser, just reflected light).

We’ll wrap up with some early morning atmospheric observations on Sol 2883, measuring dust with Navcam and Mastcam and watching for clouds with Navcam.

*If you think tetramethylammonium hydroxide (TMAH) is a mouthful, another chemical that SAM carries is called N-methyl-N-(tert-butyldimethylsilyl)trifluoroacetamide! We call it MTBSTFA for short.

September 9, 2020

Sols 2878-2879: Opening Night

Written by Scott Guzewich, Atmospheric Scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
Close-up view of Curiosity rover

This image was taken by Right Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 2873. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

Ten sols ago was our final dress rehearsal and today’s plan is opening night for an experiment that has been anticipated since we landed just over 8 years ago. After our successful drilling of our “Mary Anning 3” hole, bits of rock powder are waiting in the drill assembly for delivery to SAM. In today’s plan, we’ll extend the arm over the SAM inlets (the paddle shaped doors seen in this recent image of the rover’s deck) and rotate the drill backwards so that we drop off six portions of powdered rock.

Once inside SAM, the powdered bits of rock will be soaked a very special solution called TMAH (see the link above for the full 11 syllable name). TMAH will help our science team identify what fragments of organic (carbon-bearing) materials are present in the clay-rich rock of Mary Anning. SAM contains only two small containers of TMAH and so we’ve been waiting for 8 years for just the right rock to drill to use this very precious expendable commodity. The wait is finally over and SAM will hopefully soon give us new insight into the chemistry of ancient Mars.

September 8, 2020

Sol 2877: Dusty Days on Mars

Written by Lucy Thompson, Planetary Geologist at University of New Brunswick
Curiosity’s turret and Mount Sharp is in the background

This Sol 2874 Navcam right image shows Curiosity’s turret and the APXS instrument (top, right of center) pointed away from the ground. Mount Sharp is in the background. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

As we wait to drop the “Mary Anning 3” drilled sample off to SAM (hopefully in the next plan), Curiosity will utilize the time and power to continue monitoring the current dusty atmosphere on Mars, as well as the interesting chemistry of the rock at this location.

The ChemCam instrument will fire its laser at three targets, “Burgi,” “Woodside” and “Snowy Owl” to continue documenting the variations in element concentrations associated with different layers, colours and nodular/patchy features within the rock at this location. We will also acquire colour Mastcam documentation images of these targets and extend the imaging of the workspace.

It is the dusty season on Mars, so the environmental scientists on the team took the opportunity to plan a comprehensive suite of activities. Their prime goal is to monitor how the dust in the atmosphere affects opacity and to look for dust devil activity, but they also planned an observation to monitor cloud formation. Both Mastcam and Navcam will be utilized for these observations.

While we have drilled sample in the Sample Acquisition, Processing, and Handling (SA/SPaH) subsystem, we are unable to use the other instruments on the rover arm (MAHLI and APXS) for contact science. This means that as a member of the APXS team, it is normally a relatively quiet time for me, as we wait to dump the drilled sample from the SA/SPaH system. However, we are able to use the APXS, pointing away from the ground, to make measurements of the Argon content of the atmosphere (see accompanying image showing the APXS pointed up). We like to do this approximately every 4 weeks to record seasonal fluctuations, and we took the opportunity to plan such a measurement today.

The remainder of the plan includes standard REMS, DAN and RAD activities.

September 4, 2020

Sols 2874-2876: No Sample Dropoff to SAM

Written by Ken Herkenhoff, Planetary Geologist at USGS Astrogeology Science Center
"Mary Anning 3" drill hole

This image was taken by Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 2872. Download image ›​

At the beginning of tactical planning today, we expected the weekend plan to include dropoff of some of the drill sample to the SAM instrument, but it was later recognized that the detailed requirements for the dropoff and SAM analysis could not be met today. So the arm and SAM activities had to be removed from the plan, freeing up power for other observations. This made for a stressful day for me as SOWG Chair, but MSL will be busy gathering important data over the upcoming holiday weekend. Planning is no longer restricted, so Saturday will be a "soliday" and we are planning three sols of activities to get the rover through Labor Day.

On Sol 2874, ChemCam will measure the chemistry of the atmosphere above Gale Crater by looking upward and acquiring spectra. Then ChemCam will fire its laser at the wall of the "Mary Anning 3" drill hole and at a soil target named "Insh Marshes." After the Right Mastcam takes pictures of the ChemCam targets, Mastcam will acquire a stereo mosaic to extend the coverage of the area in front of the rover. Navcam will then search for dust devils and, later that evening, take images of the sky for calibration. Similarly, just after sunset, the ChemCam RMI will take images of the sky above the rover to check the camera's calibration.

The second sol (2875) was originally filled with arm and SAM activities, and after they were removed from the plan there was room for other activities, so we added a long DAN passive observations and some engineering checks to go along with the usual REMS atmospheric measurements. On Sol 2876, Mastcam will look for changes in the sandy "Upper Ollach" area and take some pictures of the rover deck to look for changes there as well. Then ChemCam will analyze the chemistry of rock targets "Njuggleswater" and "Rocabarrigh" and the Right Mastcam will image them as well. Don't ask me how to pronounce those names! Finally, during the morning of 2877, Navcam will search for clouds and Mastcam will measure the opacity of dust in the atmosphere.