MISSION UPDATES | September 5, 2023

Sol 3940: Lemonade From Lemons!

Written by Lucy Thompson, Planetary Geologist at University of New Brunswick
Hazcam image of APXS in contact with the “Artemisio” nodular bedrock over the 2023 Labor Day weekend taken by the Curiosity rover.

Hazcam image of APXS in contact with the “Artemisio” nodular bedrock over the weekend. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

Earth planning date: Tuesday, September 5, 2023

The team knew coming into planning today that there would be a discussion about which activities should take the highest priority. There is an unusually early decisional downlink pass that also has only a low data volume. This meant that we would need to discuss how to fit in arm contact science, targeted science and a drive before that pass. However, we did not really have to make the difficult choice after all. While the weekend drive executed perfectly through this tricky terrain of sand and large blocks, Curiosity ended up with one wheel perched on a rock. The rover engineers determined that if the rover slipped off the rock, the drop would be ~13 cm. This is too large a drop risk to safely unstow the arm and do contact science (our first lemon). Our second lemon that we had to contend with was that the imaging acquired in our drive direction only allows a short, ~20 m drive. However, the science team is always at the ready to make lemonade from lemons and jumped at the chance to increase the number of targeted science observations.

We continue to acquire imaging of the Gediz Vallis ridge in order to help us understand how this relatively late feature within Gale crater formed. The abundant large blocks contained within the ridge deposits indicate a relatively high energy environment, e.g., a landslide, a flooding event or maybe glacial activity. How do the included blocks relate to other rocks already encountered within Gale crater, and to the exposed stratigraphy higher up Mount Sharp? Are there separate packages or layers of sediment within the ridge that might represent different depositional events and processes? Are there noticeable changes in the ridge as we drive from north to south? What is the nature of the contact with the sufate-bearing unit? A large Mastcam mosaic will be acquired in this plan to help us continue to address these questions. To continue looking at the layering and structure within the Kukenan butte, and to aid in determining how the stratigraphy fits with what we are driving over, ChemCam will take a long distance RMI mosaic of the butte.

Of course, we are also interested in documenting what is in the immediate vicinity of the rover. ChemCam will fire its laser at an elongate resistant feature (“Olympia”) within an exposed bedrock block to determine whether there is interesting chemistry associated with it. We analyzed some resistant, nodular-looking bedrock in the weekend plan with APXS (“Artemisio”). How will the two features compare compositionally and texturally? We will acquire a Mastcam documentation image of the Olympia feature and a mosaic of the immediately surrounding area. Mastcam will also image some nearby resistant fins, “Palaeochori.” Even with the two large imaging mosaics, the environmental team were also able to squeeze just a little more juice from those lemons to add in a Navcam dust devil movie before we drive away. After the drive MARDI will image the new terrain beneath the rover. Standard REMS, DAN and RAD activities round out this plan.