MISSION UPDATES | December 23, 2020

Sols 2989-2991: Wrapping up 2020 at the 'Sands of Forvie'

Written by Abigail Fraeman, Planetary Geologist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Dunes on Mars

This image was taken by Left Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 2979. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

We made it. After a quick jaunt across the “rubbly” unit, Curiosity has reached the “Sands of Forvie” in time for the holidays. This sand sheet is approximately 400 meters across and a kilometer wide, and the views looking out over it are spectacularly scenic.

On Monday we made a mega, 10-sol plan to cover the holiday period, and the drive that took Curiosity to the edge of the sand sheet was in the first sol of that plan. Today, we planned 3 more sols that will happen at the end of that mega-plan. In other words, the activities we planned today won’t execute on Mars until next Earth calendar year!

The star of today’s 3-sol plan is a scuff where we will use the rover’s wheel to cut across one of the large ripples in the Sands of Forvie and allow us to observe its interior structure. We’ll also collect some ChemCam observations of two sand targets named “Corryhabbie Hill” and “Mill Loch,” and a small rock named “Fethaland.” We’ll additionally acquire MAHLI and APXS data on a ripple crest at a target named “Braewick Beach” and a different small rock in the workspace named “Ronas Hill.” These observations will be complemented by several Mastcam and RMI mosaics of the area, including a 360˚ Mastcam mosaic. Observations to monitor the environment and change detection images are also sprinkled throughout the plan.

As 2020 comes to a close, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on everything Curiosity has accomplished this (Earth) year. In March, we climbed the Greenheugh pediment, setting mission records for steepest contact science (26.9˚) and steepest climb (32˚) along the way. We also set a mission record for largest elevation change on our way back when we descended 11 meters in a single drive, which project scientist Ashwin Vasavada pointed out to me is the height of a three-story building! We drilled and analyzed six samples of Martian rock, ranking 2020 with 2016 as “Earth year where Curiosity drilled the most.” Over the summer, we performed special wet chemistry experiments on two of those drilled samples, including the first use of tetramethylammonium hydroxide (TMAH), to better understand their composition. Finally, we completed collection of our fourth full meteorological record of Mars when we celebrated our fourth Martian year on the surface. The science team has been working remotely for years, but Curiosity’s engineering team at JPL went fully remote starting in March. I am truly astonished by how much we’ve accomplished operating the rover from our dining room tables and makeshift home offices over the last 41 weeks, and I am so proud of this team.

Wishing health and happiness to everyone in this holiday season, and we’ll see you again in 2021!