May 31, 2023

Sols 3845-3847: 30 Kilometers and Counting!

Written by Susanne Schwenzer, Planetary Geologist at The Open University
This image was taken by ChemCam RMI onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3843. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL. Download image ›

This image was taken by ChemCam RMI onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3843. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL. Download image ›

Earth planning date: Tuesday, May 30, 2023

What do you do when you are driving through challenging terrain? Well, hit a new record! Tosol we have passed the 30 kilometer mark! That’s a Mars rover milestone only the NASA Opportunity rover has reached so far. That was around June 2011 and just over 2610 sols into the mission with Opportunity on its way between Victoria and Endeavour Crater. At Endeavour crater Opportunity had driven a marathon on Mars – remember Marathon Valley? You can see the stunning panorama here. Way to go Curiosity!

Driving is especially difficult for Curiosity and the rover drivers right now. One of us remarked they wouldn’t want to walk through there, let alone drive, but our rover drivers did an excellent job not only getting us to the next stop, but also parking the rover with all wheels safely on the ground so that we could use the arm. If you want to get an impression on how big of a challenge that was, here is an image from the navigation cameras to illustrate it. And we are making best use of the opportunity investigating target “Cujubim” after using the DRT. There is a three spot APXS raster on the target and of course MAHLI documentation. In addition, MAHLI looks at the target “Cumbal” to further document the interesting sedimentary structures all around us.

For the image above, though, I picked a Remote Micro-Imager (RMI) image to illustrate some of those interesting things: it shows the sedimentary structures, all the laminae, but also the nodules within, which will tell us a full story of how those rocks formed, one lamina at a time, and then there must have been another watery event forming the nodules.

In today’s plan we have two more RMIs looking into the distance to discern more of those sedimentary structures. ChemCam also keeps its laser busy on two bedrock targets, both also with nodules, which have the target names “Cariacau” and “Crique Yolande,” and there will be an AEGIS after the drive. Mastcam has two multispectral observations, one on the DRT spot, and one on target “Crique Rubin.” Mastcam further images targets “Cariacau” and “Paleomeu River,” and another target in front of the rover both to further document all the interesting features around us. In addition, the environmental theme group conducts the regular atmospheric monitoring, and of course, DAN looks for water in the underground and MARDI takes an image after the drive. And now, raise a glass (or cup) with your favourite beverage to wish the rover well navigating all the boulders ahead!

May 30, 2023

Sols 3841-3844: Feeling the Churn

Written by Michelle Minitti, Planetary Geologist at Framework
This image of the rover's wheel shadow on the Mars surface was taken by Rear Hazard Avoidance Camera (Rear Hazcam) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3839.

This image was taken by Rear Hazard Avoidance Camera (Rear Hazcam) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3839. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

Earth planning date: Friday, May 26, 2023

If you have ever had the experience of hiking up a sand dune, you can recall the feeling in your legs as you worked extra hard to stay stable and make forward progress as the sand shifted and moved beneath you. As you can see in the above rear Hazcam image, Curiosity had the same experience toward the end of her last drive. Her wheels churned through the sand she encountered as she drove uphill, carving a path and displacing half-buried rocks along the way. This kind of churn causes planning churn, upsetting plans for using the arm (and the instruments on it - DRT, MAHLI and APXS) for the long weekend. But the sand did not prevent the rest of the rover from taking in our surroundings!

The sand that hung Curiosity up also provided an attractive imaging target, with Mastcam mosaics planned across a large sand ripple next to the rover, and sand trough around one of the bedrock slabs near the ripple. Mastcam will acquire a 180+ degree context mosaic of the road ahead to support drive planning in this challenging terrain, and a multispectral observation of one the prominent veins that cuts through the bedrock in this area at "Kamani Kreek."

ChemCam also got in on the vein action with a raster across the “Sotara” vein. The host bedrock was not to be ignored, with one raster across representative bedrock at “Acai” (yum!), and a rough and bumpy version of the bedrock at “Muqui.” ChemCam RMI imaging looked slightly farther afield than Mastcam, with two long distance RMI mosaics on potential contacts on Gediz Vallis Ridge, and one mosaic on the yardang structures that top Mount Sharp.

Even farther afield, Navcam will acquire dust devil surveys, cloud movies, and atmospheric opacity observations across multiple sols and multiple times of day to keep building our temporal record of these phenomena. We were able to fit in more of these activities than usual due to leaving our power-hungry arm stowed. The extra power also meant that DAN could plan some extra long (4 and 6 hours!) passive measurements, and with the extra long plan to get us through the US holiday weekend, REMS got their own dedicated sol.

And finally, very close to home - within the rover itself! - CheMin will conduct its fourth analysis on the “Ubajara” sample. The more times CheMin can analyze the sample, the more detail the team can pull out from the data, and the better we refine our understanding of all of the mineral components in the sample.

May 24, 2023

Sols 3839-3840: Hitting the Road After Three Weeks at Ubajara

Written by Scott VanBommel, Planetary Scientist at Washington University
This image was taken by Rear Hazard Avoidance Camera (Rear Hazcam) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3837.

This image was taken by Rear Hazard Avoidance Camera (Rear Hazcam) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3837. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

Earth planning date: Wednesday, May 24, 2023

May has been a busy month for Curiosity. Our rover has been hard at work since arriving at its current location around the first of the month. In the three weeks since, Curiosity has thoroughly characterized the area around "Ubajara" and completed another successful drill campaign, its 38th such accomplishment. Curiosity's work now lies ahead, and like many in the United States this long weekend, Curiosity will hit the road. While we do not anticipate any travel congestion (we'd have quite the drive before we encounter another vehicle on Mars), we remain on the lookout for fascinating stops along the way, particularly those that may provide us with further clues as to the ancient history of Gale crater.

In today's two-sol plan we started by extending Curiosity's robotic arm first thing in the morning and cleared an oblate area (roughly the size of a sticky note) of dust using the Dust Removal Tool (DRT). This exposed the rock target "Zipaquira" for APXS analysis early in the plan, permitting us to take advantage of the favourable cool morning temperatures as Gale crater approaches winter solstice. After the quick ~30 minute APXS activity was completed, Curiosity moved the arm, took Mastcam images of the DRT'd Zipaquira location, and left the arm out of the way for further ChemCam and Mastcam activities.

ChemCam investigated the target "Karipuna" before Mastcam documented both the APXS and ChemCam targets in the plan, ahead of additional imaging of the "Boa Hora" target. As lighting became more favourable around the middle of the day for MAHLI, Curiosity moved the arm back to Zipaquira and acquired four MAHLI images at various resolutions. With these images saved on board, activities at Ubajara were completed. Curiosity then commenced the next leg of its journey: a planned drive of 37 m. At the end of the drive Curiosity acquired the requisite imaging to ensure that Friday's planning team has everything they need for a comprehensive four-sol long weekend plan.

May 23, 2023

Sols 3837-3838: MAHLI Works the Night Shift

Written by Abigail Knight, Graduate Student at Washington University in St. Louis
NASA's Mars rover Curiosity acquired this image of a drill hole on the Mars surface using its Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), located on the turret at the end of the rover's robotic arm, on May 20, 2023, or Sol 3834.

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 May 20, 2023, Sol 3834 of the Mars Science Laboratory Mission. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS. Download image ›

Earth planning date: Monday, May 22, 2023

Curiosity successfully wrapped up the “Ubajara” drill campaign over the weekend with some imaging of the drill tailings. This Monday, we are planning two sols (Mars days) of activities to finish up at Ubajara before driving off in the coming sols. Most targeted science today is focused on bedrock target “Apetina,” which is situated on the same block as our previous Ubajara drill target.

We start off with Navcam and Mastcam line-of-sight observations to assess the dust content in the atmosphere. ChemCam will use its laser to ablate and analyze soil target “Salamangone” with a technique called laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS). ChemCam will also acquire a series of images with its Remote Micro-Imager to form a mosaic of upper Gediz Vallis ridge from a distance.

Curiosity will use its Dust Removal Tool (DRT) to first brush away the ever-present Martian dust coating Apetina, so other instruments can get a better look at the composition and features of the actual underlying bedrock. Mastcam will take lots of images after brushing the target to determine and document the success of the dust removal. Then, MAHLI will have a look at the brushed target, and APXS will analyze the elemental composition of Apetina with a combination of X-rays and alpha particles in the evening. Today was my first solo shift as the APXS Payload Uplink/Downlink Lead, so as operations wrap up, I’m eagerly awaiting the arrival of our APXS data from Apetina! Later, after the Sun has set on Mars, MAHLI will have a second look at Apetina – this time at night with LEDs rather than sunlight to illuminate the surface. As the original MAHLI PI once explained, “MAHLI’s white light illumination capabilities will be used to create glints, reduce shadows, create shadows, and thereby enhance observation of crystal faces.”

The second sol of our plan is full of observations of nearby bedrock, the distant crater rim, and the Martian atmosphere. Mastcam kicks things off on the second sol with some more imaging of Apetina and an extension of its mosaic of the local terrain surrounding Curiosity. ChemCam will then use the LIBS technique once more to investigate the surface of nearby bedrock target “Zipaquira” and investigate potential signs of past alteration. ChemCam’s last observation of this plan will be a mosaic looking toward “Peace Vallis,” located along the distant rim of Gale crater. Curiosity will also investigate the Martian atmosphere with a Mastcam Sky Survey and Navcam Dust Devil Survey.

May 22, 2023

Sols 3834-3836: Wrapping Up at Ubajara

Written by Conor Hayes, Planetary Scientist at York University
Image taken by Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3832.

This image was taken by Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3832. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL. Download image ›

Earth planning date: Friday, May 19, 2023

Today was what we call a "late slide" planning day, meaning that we started 90 minutes later than usual – 9:30 AM at JPL, or 12:30 PM for me here in Toronto. This change was necessitated by the fact that the data we needed to go ahead with planning wasn't scheduled to be downlinked from Mars to Earth until just after 9 AM PDT, well after our usual 8 AM PDT start time.

The biggest question coming into today's plan was whether or not the SAM team wanted to go ahead with their Gas Chromatography Mass Spectrometry (GCMS) experiment on the Ubajara sample after getting the results from the Evolved Gas Analysis (EGA) performed in Wednesday's plan. After taking a look at the EGA data between Wednesday and today, SAM decided not to proceed with GCMS. SAM activities consume a significant amount of the rover's battery charge, so removing GCMS from today's plan meant that we got some extra time to do other science. It also means that we will be wrapping up our time here at Ubajara just a little earlier than scheduled, so this weekend will be one of our last opportunities to take a look at this location before continuing to drive uphill.

On the first sol, we begin by extending our Mastcam mosaic of this location to document as much of the area as we can while we're still here, before turning Mastcam to look up Gediz Vallis in the direction that we will eventually be driving. ChemCam will then zap the target "Jutica" with LIBS, taking before and after images with its RMI camera. Post-LIBS, Jutica will be imaged by Mastcam. ChemCam RMI will also take a mosaic of "Peace Vallis," an old river valley that deposited material on the crater floor near our 2012 landing site. Once that is wrapped up, we will dump the Ubajara sample now that it is no longer needed by SAM. Finally, MAHLI and APXS will take a look at the Ubajara drill hole tailings.

The second sol's science begins with a number of Navcam environmental science activities, including a Line-of-Sight observation of the rim of Gale Crater to measure the amount of dust in the atmosphere, a Navcam cloud movie, and a survey for dust devils around the rover. LIBS and RMI will then turn their attention to Ilha Grande, which we have targeted with a number of instruments during our stay here at Ubajara. Mastcam will also image the drill boresight and bit assembly to assess their condition following the Ubajara drill campaign. APXS will conduct an overnight observation to characterize seasonal changes in the amount of argon in the Martian atmosphere.

The final sol is dedicated to a number of ChemCam activities, starting with another LIBS/RMI observation, this time of "Walterlandia." We then spend some time taking passive spectra of the sky to examine atmospheric aerosol properties as well as atmospheric abundances of oxygen and water vapor to complement the APXS overnight observations.

This plan wraps up with our usual weekend suite of early-morning atmospheric monitoring activities from the ENV team. This includes two Navcam movies to look for clouds above Gale and a Navcam 360 survey to characterize the microphysical properties of those clouds. We will also be measuring the amount of dust in the atmosphere above and within Gale with Mastcam and Navcam observations of the crater rim and the Sun. As always, REMS and RAD will spend this plan monitoring the weather and the radiation environment.

May 18, 2023

Sols 3832-3833: Remotely Waiting in Gale

Written by Natalie Moore, Mission Operations Specialist at Malin Space Science Systems
This image was taken by Right Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3827.

This image was taken by Right Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3827. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

Earth planning date: Wednesday, May 17, 2023

As I’m writing this, it’s about 8:30 pm on sol 3831 in Gale crater: ~16 hours after our SAM instrument ran its EGA experiment (which Abigail described so clearly in yesterday’s blog!). While we were able to confirm the success of the Ubajara drill sample drop-off to SAM and the start of the EGA, our first communication with Earth after the EGA completed was delayed from a ground-based issue. Luckily, our downlink lead assured us that the data would be available later this evening so the SAM team can still assess the results before Friday’s next planning session. So for now, we’re still in a planning holding pattern until SAM decides if the Ubajara drill sample is tasty enough for further analysis.

My primary role in this mission is to operate the science cameras (Mastcam, MAHLI, MARDI), and drill sites usually provide more opportunities to watch our mission scientists analyze instrument results. Something I’ve noticed at Ubajara is that everyone's excited about the surrounding geological contacts and chemically-interesting veins/nodules in the bedrock around us. We’re also at a high vantage point of our traversed path, including Marker Band valley and its towering buttes like Deepdale, Bolivar, Amapa, and Chenapau - not to mention the crater rim shining through the fairly low atmospheric opacity (check out this Navcam 360 mosaic from last week)! All of this visible diversity means our remote science teams are eager to fill up the plan as much as our battery will let us.

For this two-sol plan we’re starting off with a Mastcam multispectral of the Jardinopolis dark vein target ChemCam shot with LIBS on sol 3830 (here’s the M100 image post-ChemCam LIBS). ChemCam is using their one-LIBS-per-sol on a bedrock target named “Les Trois Dents” (upper-left in this M100 image) and treating the clear atmosphere as an opportunity to get high-resolution imaging of the crater rim - supplementing Mastcam’s most recent observation on sol 3830. We’ll fill the evening and night of sol 3832 with environmental data collection from RAD and REMS and pick up in the afternoon of sol 3833 with more Mastcam images of the atmosphere for tau measurements, the drill fines for measuring wind presence, and the ChemCam LIBS shots for color context. ChemCam will shoot the same block we drilled on a target named “Madeira” for spectral diversity, and Navcam will take horizon movies to watch for any dust devils. We’ll finish out the plan with more environmental measurements and another CheMin analysis of some Ubajara drill sample to see if chemistry results differ over time. Our next plan’s fate now rests in the hands of the SAM team: to continue analyzing or wrap up this campaign and move on. We’ll know for sure on Friday morning, so put in your guess now and check back to see if SAM agrees!

May 16, 2023

Sol 3831: Awaiting SAM Results

Written by Abigail Fraeman, Planetary Geologist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory
This image was taken by Left Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3828.

This image was taken by Left Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3828. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

Earth planning date: Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Curiosity is still hard at work analyzing results from the Ubajara drilled sample. Yesterday we delivered some of the sample to the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument for an Evolved Gas Analysis (EGA), which is basically an activity where we bake the rock powder at very high temperatures (100s of degrees C) and simultaneously measure the compositions of the gasses that come off the rocks as it gets hotter and hotter and hotter. We planned to run the SAM EGA overnight in the sol 3830 plan, so we didn’t have the data of that experiment down in time for planning this morning to help us decide what we want to do next; our choices are either to do another kind of analysis of the sample with SAM, or wrap up this drill campaign and drive on. Today’s plan therefore turned into a “Wait for SAM” plan, where we planned some science activities for Curiosity to do while we recharge the battery and await data from the experiment to be returned to Earth.

Fortunately, there’s lots to do while we wait! Mastcam has been slowly collecting lots of beautiful and scientifically valuable high-resolution mosaics from this location, so today we will continue to add to the collection by adding coverage of some rocks in front of the rover. ChemCam has also been documenting some interesting dark nodules and veins on targets like Ilha Grande, Tacuma, and in Jardinopolis in the past weekend’s and yesterday’s plan. We’ll continue this characterization today with a ChemCam LIBS activity on another nearby dark vein, named “Sunsas.” On the environmental monitoring front, we’ll also look at the rim of Gale crater with Mastcam and Navcam to characterize how hazy it looks (it’s a very clear time of year right now, see above!), and also search for dust devils with Navcam.

May 16, 2023

Sol 3830: Balancing Act

Written by Lucy Thompson, Planetary Geologist at University of New Brunswick
This Mastcam image was taken onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3824, showing a possible ChemCam rock target.

Mastcam left image. ChemCam will target the dark material within the central block. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS. Download image ›

Earth planning date: May 15, 2023

We are in the midst of our 38th successful drill campaign, analyzing the “Ubajara” bedrock, a sample of what we have been referring to as the “above Marker band” bedrock. Curiosity has been systematically analyzing the bedrock and associated vein and nodular features for chemistry, texture and sedimentology since we left the Marker band and our last drill target, “Tapo Caparo.” We are interested in documenting any changes as we drive up in elevation away from the distinctive Marker band, which may be indicative of changing depositional, or later alteration environments. By drilling Ubajara, which is ~25 m higher in elevation than Tapo Caparo, we can deliver sample to our internal instruments, CheMin and SAM, to further elucidate specific mineralogical and compositional changes, as well as investigate the presence of organic compounds. Today it is the turn of SAM to perform their EGA (evolved gas analysis). The SAM analysis requires significant power, so we must carefully balance the amount of power required by the different activities we wish to perform, with the SAM analysis of the Ubajara sample taking priority. This meant that we had limited time to perform other remote science activities, to enable to the rover to sleep and recharge for as long as possible prior to the SAM analysis.

The geologists and environmental scientists had no trouble filling the time available to them. ChemCam will analyze a dark, vein-like feature in the workspace, “Jardinopolis,” with accompanying Mastcam documentation imagery. Mastcam will also acquire images to extend existing coverage of the area surrounding the Ubajara drill site. To continue monitoring changes in the atmosphere, Mastcam will take two tau images to measure the dust in the atmosphere, and we will acquire a Navcam 360 sky survey and cloud altitude observation. Standard REMS, DAN and RAD activities round out this plan.

We are all eagerly awaiting the results of the additional CheMin and new SAM analyses of our latest, Ubajara drill sample!

May 12, 2023

Sols 3827-3829: Sitting Still (But Not Idling!) At Ubajara

Written by Catherine O'Connell-Cooper, Planetary Geologist at University of New Brunswick
This shows a MAHLI image of “Ilha Grande" that was created on Sol 3821.

MAHLI image of “Ilha Grande." Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS. Download image ›

Earth planning date: Friday, May 12, 2023

Drilling campaigns force us to sit and stop, whilst the Ubajara” drill sample is analyzed. This takes a week or two, depending on the types of analysis that CheMin and SAM chose to do. This might sound like we are sitting quietly, just waiting but drill campaigns are furiously busy and “power hungry.” CheMin planned the first part of their analysis on Wednesday, and today, they added a second set of analysis, integrating over the drilled “Ubajara” sample. SAM will do a “preconditioning” activity, which sets SAM up for analysis next week. These activities are power intensive, which constrains what GEO and ENV can fit into the plan.

Often, we leave a workspace with regret – there are only so many hours in a given day, and even though a given sol (day) on Mars is longer than one on Earth, we almost always identify more targets than we can possibly fit in! So GEO is taking the opportunity here to analyze everything that ChemCam can reach.

Today’s plan focuses on small raised resistant features. Earlier this week, APXS analysed a really small nodule feature at “Ilha Grande,” shown in the accompanying MAHLI image and there was interest in analyzing this target with ChemCam’s LIBS instrument, which is well suited to hitting these types of targets. ChemCam will use LIBS on Ilha Grande and a nearby larger mass of similar material (“Tucuma”) (which was too rough to analyze with APXS as it posed a danger to the instrument) in this plan. The raised features are so small (Ilha Grande is 1 cm at its widest point) that they are hard to target with any great confidence, so targeting this early in our Ubajara stop will allow them to be refined and repeated if necessary. Mastcam will also image both ChemCam targets.

In parallel to the GEO themed part of the plan, the ENV group will also uplink several environmental activities. Mastcam will take two change detection images. These are typically done when we are stopped in a place for a few days. Taking images at the same time of day on a number of consecutive days allows us to see how much sediment is moving in our workspace, giving us an idea of wind directions and strengths. Navcam will also look for indirect evidence of winds, through “dust devil” movies which can also tell us about wind direction and strength. Mastcam will take a “crater rim extinction” image and a full tau measurement, to measure dust both within the crater and overhead in the atmosphere, whilst Navcam will survey clouds above us. The ENV portion of the plan is rounded out by REMS and DAN activities, looking at temperatures (REMS) and potential traces of hydrogen (DAN).

May 11, 2023

Sols 3825-3826: Another Beautiful Hole on Mars

Written by Ashley Stroupe, Mission Operations Engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory
This image of Curiosity's drill was taken by Front Hazard Avoidance Camera (Front Hazcam) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3823. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

This image was taken by Front Hazard Avoidance Camera (Front Hazcam) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3823. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

Earth planning date: Wednesday May 10, 2023

Coming in for sol 3825 planning today, the team was very excited to see that we successfully drilled a new hole on the Ubajara target. The image shows the drill contacting the rock, just before beginning the drilling activity.

On the first sol of the plan, we begin with some imaging. We take a stereo mosaic of the target “Kukenan” to document the bedding of the local bedrock. We also take ChemCam and Mastcam post-drill observations of the drill target, Ubajara, to see the drill hole and the drill tailings. There is also a Navcam large dust devil survey and a Mastcam image of the CheMin inlet before we drop off sample. Normally we take images of the CheMin inlet immediately before and after sample drop-off. This time we are doing the sample drop-off at night in order to minimize the time between dropping off and analysis. As a result, we have to take the images of the inlet outside of the arm activities. After a nap, Curiosity wakes up to drop off the sample to CheMin for an overnight analysis. Science is very anxious to see how this sample differs from Tapo Caparo, which was about 25m lower in elevation than the Ubajara location. A few hours later, CheMin will proceed with analyzing the sample.

On the second sol of the plan, we are trying to conserve power for an expected upcoming SAM observation on the sample. We have some imaging, including Mastcam imaging for change detection on the target Azufral (which we observed in the prior plan), and a stereo mosaic to extend our workspace coverage, and the image of the CheMin inlet after the drop-off. ChemCam takes a LIBS observation and Mastcam a single supporting image of the target “Jaru,” a nodular bedrock target nearby. In this block is also an Navcam atmospheric observation, line-of-sight facing north. Lastly, ChemCam takes an RMI long-distance image of the inverted channel, near the area the rover may approach in the future.