MISSION UPDATES | December 17, 2021

Sols 3330-3332: Cliff Back…

Written by Susanne Schwenzer, Planetary Geologist at The Open University
This image shows the rear hazard camera view onto the landscape. Remember that the hazard camera is mounted below the rover body, so we are looking from very low to the ground upwards. This image was taken by Rear Hazard Avoidance Camera (Rear Hazcam) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3329.

This image shows the rear hazard camera view onto the landscape. Remember that the hazard camera is mounted below the rover body, so we are looking from very low to the ground upwards. This image was taken by Rear Hazard Avoidance Camera (Rear Hazcam) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3329. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

We had quite a few special investigations lately, which took the front seat (read: all our power and time) lately. They ranged from boulders to DAN investigations that saw the rover parked very close to a cliff face. We are starting this 3 sol plan with DAN passive observations to wrap up before driving away from the cliff face and a post drive DAN active.

The atmospheric investigations had to take a little bit of a step back while we were doing our investigations near the cliff, so they feature very prominently in today’s plan to make up for it. Curiosity has a lot to do over the next three sols to catch up with the atmospheric investigations. This weekend we’ve panned several imaging activities including a tau or atmospheric opacity observation, a ChemCam passive sky spectroscopy observation to retrieve water column abundances and aerosol properties, and images to search for dust devils. Later in the same sol we have another opacity observation, a cloud altitude movie, which allows us to determine cloud height to be extracted as well as velocity, and finally a phase function sky survey which is a whole sky atmospheric monitoring activity to look at scattering phase functions of clouds. Finally we have our weekly suite of morning observations which include a line of sight observation of the crater rim to determine dust loading within the crater, a zenith movie which looks for clouds and wind direction near the zenith, and another opacity measurement.

As we continue to travel through the notch, geologists marvel at the outcrops presented by the high walls, and when geologists marvel, they take lots of pictures. Mastcam will take three mosaics to cover the most impressive parts of the cliffs and two on the rocks right in front of us. “Corncockle Sandstone” and “Catcastle Sandstone” are targets in the workspace, and three larger mosaics on the walls and cliffs are documenting interesting sedimentary features that we can see from our current vantage point. It’s not all that easy where we are, because the steepness of the cliffs means we need to carefully plan to find the best light conditions. But with a weekend plan, there is a lot of opportunities to try to fit it all. Curiosity will also perform a multispectral analysis on the target “Clochoderick.”

ChemCam will add long distance RMIs to the feast of images and get even more detailed images on some of the most interesting parts of the cliffs. ChemCam is also hitting two targets with the active mode, “Clochoderick” and “Aros Park” to measure the bedrock and to get a joint measurement of a float rock that APXS is measuring, respectively. Talking of APXS, it’s looking at the float rock Aros Park and the bedrock target Clochoderick. And, of course, we will also do our standard REMS (the weather station) observations to measure atmospheric pressure, temperature, humidity, winds, plus ultraviolet radiation levels. Plenty of data to come – “an amazing amount of science in this plan,” to quote today’s long term planner – just before we plan for the Christmas break. But more about that on Monday – terrestrially speaking.