MISSION UPDATES | September 25, 2023

Sols 3960-3961: Big Fan of Rock Bands

Written by Alivia Eng, Graduate Student at Georgia Tech
This image was taken by Left Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3958.

This image was taken by Left Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3958. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

Earth planning date: Monday, September 25, 2023

Despite a few bumps in the road, Curiosity tenaciously pushed on and has finally arrived at the intriguing light- and dark-toned bands. I am sure that I can speak for many of those planning today when I say that I was eager to investigate new targets- especially in preparation for our next drill. Rocks immediately in front of the rover, known as the ”workspace," are primarily light-toned and rough. Too rough, in fact, to employ the Dust Removal Tool, much to the dismay of the team who had been hoping to include a brushed bedrock target since we haven’t been able to perform contact science in seven sols. It is important to consistently acquire brushed bedrock measurements so that we can assess any changes along Curiosity’s traverse without that pesky dust in the way.

Given that the alternating light- and dark-toned bands are (1) so visually distinct, (2) show Mg-sulfate signatures from orbit, and (3) are our next drill target, Curiosity is set to be busy characterizing these rocks as much as power allows. On sol 3960, Curiosity will unstow its arm to use the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) and Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) to investigate “Silver Spur," a bedrock target (albeit unbrushed). Then ChemCam will fire a laser at a rock named “Larkspur” to reveal its composition. ChemCam team member Dr. William Rapin and I advocated for Larkspur given the ambiguous grey splotches. Thanks to some sharp shooting by the ChemCam team, we are able to plan for the laser to shoot across both the grey splotches and the lighter-toned bedrock, hopefully giving insight on how this feature formed. Before ChemCam turns off on sol 3960, it will also acquire a long-distance remote micro-image (RMI) of Peace Vallis, a valley on the northern rim of Gale crater. Mastcam will then boot up to document the spot on Larkspur that ChemCam shot and a flaky-looking rock, named “Jigsaw Pass,” right next to the front right wheel (seen in this blog’s image). “Coyote Flats,” which encompasses an area in a light-toned band that we hope to reach after our next drive, will also be documented by Mastcam; and the Navigation Camera (Navcam) will acquire a cloud movie.

Following our relatively short drive on sol 3690, Curiosity will proceed with Post-Drive Imaging (PDI) which includes Navcam and Mastcam mosaics to inform our next day of planning. With such a busy sol, this hardworking rover needs a good night’s rest to recharge. Once Curiosity wakes up on sol 3961, it will engage in autonomous activities to select targets and fire ChemCam’s laser so that we have data on the new workspace upon the next planning day. Lastly, Curiosity will close this shift by capturing another cloud movie with Navcam.