MISSION UPDATES | September 12, 2023

Sols 3946-3947: Onwards to Bishop

Written by Lauren Edgar, Planetary Geologist at USGS Astrogeology Science Center
This image was taken by Right Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3944.

This image was taken by Right Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3944. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

Earth planning date: Monday, September 11, 2023

Curiosity is making good progress towards our next potential drill location in a region of alternating light and dark banding. Before we get there, we’re collecting a lot of great contact science on these blocks of broken up bedrock to document compositional and textural changes. Today’s two-sol plan includes contact science and driving on the first sol, followed by untargeted remote sensing on the second sol.

I was on shift as SOWG Chair today, and it was a remarkably smooth day of planning – I love it when the plan comes together so well and fits within our power, data, and time of day constraints while accomplishing some great science. The plan starts by using the DRT to expose a fresh surface at the bedrock target “Antikythera,” followed by APXS to assess its chemistry. Then we’ll use ChemCam and Mastcam multispectral to collect some additional chemistry observations on the same target. The team also planned several Mastcam mosaics at “Delphi,” “Mycenae,” and “Zagori” to assess the local bedrock and some resistant fins, and to document a nearby ripple field with an edge-on view of the bedform crests. We’ll also use the ChemCam RMI to acquire a long distance mosaic looking back towards Peace Vallis, and take a Mastcam tau observation to assess atmospheric opacity. In the afternoon, MAHLI will image the DRT target “Antikythera,” followed by a ~26 m drive and imaging to prepare for the next plan. The second sol includes an autonomously selected ChemCam target, and Navcam observations to assess dust in the atmosphere and search for dust devils.

The planned drive should put us in a new mapping quadrangle, informally known as the Bishop quad. Our informal naming convention is to divide up the exploration region into square quadrangles (0.025 degrees of latitude or longitude on a side) and each quad is assigned a name of a town with a population less than 100,000 people. As Curiosity investigates targets within a quad, we assign names to targets that correspond to geological formations and features from near that town on Earth. Bishop California is located in Owens Valley, and is the starting point for trips into the High Sierra, including some awesome geology. It feels like a fitting name for the next part of Curiosity’s ascent of Mt. Sharp!

For more information on how and why rover teams name features on Mars, check out this recent news story.