MISSION UPDATES | September 20, 2019

Sols 2533-2535: SAM's Starring Role!

Written by Catherine O'Connell, Planetary Geologist at University of New Brunswick
Sols 2533-2535: SAM's Starring Role!

Mastcam image, showing both Glen Etive drill holes, surrounded by "tailings" produced by the drilling process

Planning for this past week has centered on analyzing the high potassium drill sample, Glen Etive 2, using the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument. Portions of the drilled sample were delivered to SAM in Wednesday's plan, and an evolved gas analysis (EGA) conducted. This involved heating the sample to very high temperatures and measuring the gases that bake out of the sample with each temperature increment. Following the successful completion of the EGA, SAM will uplink a sequence in today's plan to clean the SAM Gas Chromatograph (GC) Columns, before some sample is transferred internally for a special wet chemistry experiment in next week's plan. The Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instrument will also do some preparation work in this plan, ahead of a planned sample drop-off to CheMin at the end of next week.

Although we wanted to dedicate most of Curiosity's resources to the continuing Glen Etive analysis, the Geology theme group (GEO) managed to fit in some geology observations. ChemCam will analyze two targets, investigating soil and pebbles at "Kilpatrick" and refining bedrock composition at "Glen Lyon" (previously shot on sol 2481.)

In addition to imaging the ChemCam targets to support geological interpretation, Mastcam will revisit the sol 2491 "change detection" target "Dundee." This target contains both sand and bedrock, making it easier to track small-scale changes, such as sand moving over bedrock. Although change detection studies track small particle movements, they are of immense use, helping us understand the larger picture, such as sand dune movement and changing wind regimes.

The Environmental Theme Group (ENV) will monitor large-scale surface changes, such as those due to strong winds and atmospheric vortices (dust devils), and look at broader environmental conditions (clouds, atmospheric dust) in Gale and beyond.

I was the Strategic Planner for APXS this week. Normally this is a busy role, helping to choose targets which will give us the most scientific return, but as movement of the rover arm (required to place APXS next to a sample) is not allowed whilst SAM is actively investigating a sample, it has been a quiet week for APXS. However, it is exciting to see SAM have a starring role this week, and we are eagerly anticipating the results from SAM and CheMin over the next few weeks!