MISSION UPDATES | 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.