MISSION UPDATES | August 2, 2021

Sols 3197-3198: Lots of Little Nodules

Written by Susanne Schwenzer, Planetary Geologist at The Open University
This is a large colored and zoomed in image of one of the wheels on Curiosity. The wheel is located on the sandy surface of Mars. Curiosity's shadow is reflected on the surface.

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 August 1, 2021, Sol 3195 of the Mars Science Laboratory Mission. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS. Download image ›

We have recently done a full MAHLI wheel imaging, and the image I choose today is one of the wheels in full sunshine. You can just about make up the bedrock and some of the nodules I talk about under the wheel. It's always good to see our hardware!

This two-sol plan focuses on what geologists call nodules, little rounded things that stick out of the surrounding rock because they are just a little bit more resistant to weathering than the rock itself. The term nodule thereby does not say anything about how they formed, it’s just a description of what you see in the images.

Curiosity is parked in an area that has lots of those nodules. Consequently, APXS is looking at target "Vendoire" in the workspace, and that target has lots of these nodules. ChemCam is joining the effort, trying to hit some of the nodules also imaged by a Mastcam multispectral observation, but they are tiny, so, fingers crossed. Always remember, we are trying to hit something of the size of a dime or smaller at a distance from about 3 metres or more. Let’s see what target "Beleymas" brings, but we are confident to at least hit some!

ChemCam is also looking into the distance, where we have spotted an outcrop where there are changes in the textures – the upper part of the outcrop looks smoother from our vantage point than the lower part. What’s better than getting close by pointing the remote imager at it? That will help us decide what might be behind the patterns in the current images. Mastcam is joining the distance-imaging and adding colour to the ChemCam images, as well as looking right in front of the rover to support the nodule investigations and a butte in the "Sands of Forvie" area. It is collecting two multispectral observation in support of the nodule observation on targets "Baneuil" and the above named target "Beleymas."

After all this science there is a drive, more imaging, and some more science. The imaging is mostly to get the data needed for the next planning, but also a little science as we are also getting an image for our regular clast survey. ChemCam will perform an AEGIS observation, where it looks for its own target after the drive. Those investigations add important capabilities to our plans as they allow us to use ChemCam LIBS before we here on Earth have seen the new parking space. It’s an interesting area, especially for me as a mineralogist, as all those nodules usually also mean chemical and mineralogical changes. Well, we’ll soon find out!