MISSION UPDATES | March 26, 2021

Sols 3071-3073: Get Closer to 'Mont Mercou,' but Do it Backwards

Written by Abigail Fraeman, Planetary Geologist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Black and white view of Mars

This image was taken by Right Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3063. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

Curiosity will be driving again this weekend after completing drilling activities at “Nontron,” but we won’t be going very far. On the second sol of the three-sol weekend plan, Curiosity will turn in place and then back up a couple meters to get the rear of the rover as close as possible to the ~20-foot tall "Mont Mercou." Placing our back to the cliff may seem counterintuitive since all of the science cameras and arm are on the front of the rover. However, the purpose of this drive is to enable us to observe the cliff with an instrument on the back on the rover called DAN. DAN, which is short for Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons, detects the amount of hydrogen (a proxy for water) in the vicinity of the rover. Usually, DAN can just sense the terrain directly below Curiosity, but being in the vicinity of a tall cliff gives us a rare opportunity to observe both the ground underneath and the ground rising up next to the rover. Collecting DAN data after our drive will give us a better understanding of the composition of the materials in the cliff, and it will help understand how local topography affects DAN measurements.

We put together a jam-packed weekend plan in addition to the drive. In the first sol of the plan, we’ll monitor dust in the atmosphere and collect MAHLI and APXS data on targets named “Chassenon.” We’ll do even more science in the evening by collecting late evening images of Phobos, imaging the CheMin inlet, and collecting APXS data from the drilling tailings. On the second sol of the plan, we’ll take a MAHLI image of the drill tailings and lots of Mastcam images before we drive in the early afternoon. Curiosity will also collect some cloud observations before going to bed for the evening. Finally, on the third sol of the plan, we’ll take more images to monitor the atmosphere and collect a lot of DAN data. Whew! What a weekend!