MISSION UPDATES | July 22, 2020

Sols 2831-2835: The One Where Curiosity Takes Mary Anning to Mars

Written by Michelle Minitti, Planetary Geologist at Framework
Surface of Mars

This image was taken by Left Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 2829. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›​

Our drive in the last plan successfully placed at what we hope is our next drill site, the large, lovely, layered block in the image above. It is always exciting to name a new drill target, but the new name, "Mary Anning," is particularly special. Mary Anning spent her life scouring the seaside cliffs near Lyme Regis, along the southern coast of England, for fossils. She uncovered innumerable samples, most notably the first full Ichthyosaur and the first Plesiosaur. But as all too often occurs in society, Mary Anning’s gender and societal status led her groundbreaking work and discoveries to be dismissed by the scientific establishment or, worse, appropriated by men. Let Mary Anning’s name on Mars remind us to include everyone in the endeavor of exploration.

Fittingly, every team played a role in planning the five sols that will accomplish the work necessary to attempt drilling next week. ChemCam will measure the chemistry of both the primary and back up Mary Anning drill targets, in addition to “Carter Fell,” another target on the large bedrock slab we will drill. APXS will also analyze the chemistry of the primary Mary Anning target, MAHLI will image the target in detail, and then the rover planners will push the drill bit into the drill target to gauge its hardness and test its ability to withstand the force of the drill activity. Mastcam will acquire a 360 degree panoramic mosaic of our surroundings, which documents the context of our drill location within the Glen Torridon region and facilitates planning for more detailed imaging of the region. Since the workspace is obviously of interest, Mastcam will also acquire a detailed stereo mosaic that covers the workspace. CheMin will conduct an empty cell analysis and SAM will test out analysis techniques, each in preparation for analyzing the next drill sample.

Even as our attention is drawn to the rocks around us, dust storm season swirls about Curiosity, warranting our attention on the skies as well. ChemCam will turn its spectrometers skyward in passive mode to observe a wide area of the sky in order to measure concentrations of minor gases (especially oxygen and water) and dust. Combinations of Navcam and Mastcam will monitor the amount of dust in the atmosphere early in the morning, around midday, and later in the afternoon; Navcam will also look for dust devils around midday and clouds early in the morning. RAD and DAN will make dozens of measurements across four sols and while REMS will make regular measurements of Martian weather conditions throughout the plan, it is the lone star of the show on the final sol of the plan, dutifully working away as the rest of the instruments take a much needed break at the end of the long plan.