MISSION UPDATES | March 18, 2022

Sols 3419-3420: Assessing the "Gator-Back Terrain"

Written by Mark Salvatore, Planetary Geologist at University of Michigan
This image was taken by Right Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3417.

This image was taken by Right Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3417. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

After a ~15 meter drive to the west along the top of the Greenheugh Pediment, Curiosity is now positioned at an interesting textural transition within the pediment’s surface units. Quite a large amount of the pediment is dominated by a washboard-like pattern at the surface that can be easily observed from orbit, while the region Curiosity ascended onto the pediment surface is rugged yet lacks those clear washboard-like features. With this latest drive, Curiosity is now positioned at the transition between these two surface units, and the team is continuing to assess the traversability of this units.

With this new vantage point, the plan is for Curiosity to spend the weekend characterizing the different morphological features observed on top of the pediment. The weekend plan will start with several Mastcam imaging sequences designed to characterize the washboarding that is observed in the landscape ahead of the rover. The terrain’s small-scale roughness and oriented ventifacted rocks led the Science Team to informally refer to these textures as “gator-back terrain” (see image). Curiosity will also perform two ChemCam LIBS analyses on two different targets - a smooth outcrop target named “Macmerry” and a rougher knobby target named “Ochiltree.” After a ChemCam passive sky observation around midday on sol 3419, Curiosity will unstow her arm to conduct an APXS integration on the outcrop target named “Blackadder” and an overnight APXS measurement to characterize the martian atmosphere. Finally, on the sol 3420, Curiosity will complete her Mastcam and ChemCam observations (including a long-distance remote imaging mosaic) before embarking on a planned ~35 meter drive to the west to continue the investigation of the pediment and the interesting surface textures found on its surface.