MISSION UPDATES | July 19, 2021

Sols 3183-3184: A 'Pressing' Situation

Written by Melissa Rice, Planetary Geologist at Western Washington University
This is a colored image of sand and rock scattered on a smooth surface. On the center of the image, a smooth circular surface is present.

NASA's 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 July 17, 2021, Sol 3180 of the Mars Science Laboratory Mission. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS. Download image ›

The science team is dealing with a pressing situation today – quite literally! In the MAHLI image above, you can see a flat, smooth region in middle of the Pontours dump pile, where it looks like something pressed into the loose, fine-grained material. What caused this mark is a mystery; although Curiosity’s arm instruments investigated the dump pile last week, neither MAHLI nor APXS were supposed to come into direct contact with the surface. One possibility is that dump pile was taller than expected, and so APXS could have pressed slightly into the material, even though it was expected to just hover above the surface. In case that’s what happened, the team today planned for Mastcam to take images of the arm and APXS on sol 3183, to make sure none of the material got stuck to the instrument.

The mystery is not so pressing as to delay Curiosity from continuing on her journey. Sol 3183 has the rover leaving the Pontours drill site, continuing to drive uphill amidst the towering hills of Mount Sharp. Before driving, Curiosity will make some final investigations of the Pontours vicinity, including APXS and MAHLI observations of "Montagenet" (a dark-toned surface coating), a ChemCam observation of "Montagrier" (a dark-toned, thin blade of rock), and long-distance RMI observations of the bedding in the hills at "Le Coly" and on Rafael Navarro Mountain. On sol 3184, Curiosity will make an automated AEGIS ChemCam observation and complete several atmospheric monitoring activities.