May 7, 2021

Sols 3112-3114: Always a silver lining!

Written by Catherine O'Connell-Cooper, Planetary Geologist at University of New Brunswick
MAHLI image, showing a closeup of the “Gourdon” target, taken from a standoff of 3.5 cm.

MAHLI image, showing a closeup of the “Gourdon” target, taken from a standoff of 3.5 cm. This image was taken by the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), located on the turret at the end of the rover's robotic arm, on May 6, 2021, Sol 3110. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS. Download image ›

Things not going to plan doesn’t have to mean a disaster - sometimes there is a silver lining to be found and today was one of those days.

We had planned to drive a couple of metres in our last plan, but Curiosity pulled the drive up short after less than half a metre when autonomous sensors showed the terrain was a bit trickier than expected so the rover stopped to ask for more instructions from Earth. Getting off the edge of Mont Mercou is testing our driving abilities, with some steep and tricky terrain, but our fantastic engineers and rover planners (“RP”) are stubborn! Just picture them rolling up their sleeves, in home offices in living rooms and basements around the country and getting challenged by planning across this tough terrain. They have their work cut out for them – and that is before the geology theme group (GEO) takes a look at the images and picks out targets that are interesting to us, but which can also prove challenging for the arm engineers to safely reach with the APXS and MAHLI instruments!

In this case, the drive stopping short worked in GEOs’ favour. MAHLI imaging of an APXS target on freshly broken rock (as the rover drove over it) from Wednesday (“Gourdon”) revealed very intriguing textures. From this slightly different angle, we were able to get both Mastcam multispectral imaging and ChemCam on a section of this target (at “Grignols”) in today’s plan – an opportunity we would have missed if the drive had gone as planned. APXS, MAHLI and ChemCam were also able to analyze more of these beautiful veins (“Pezuls”) and unusual, rough and twisted textures (“Le Bugue” and “Grives”).

Our stalled drive also provided an opportunity for bonus multispectral imaging of the workspace we had been aiming for – this time in the Mastcam target “Mayac” which includes the “tiger stripe” rock that we are itching to analyze! We hope to end up here for Monday’s contact science, so extra imaging will be very useful in picking targets of interest. Looking forward to finally getting to the “tiger stripe” rock!

May 5, 2021

Sols 3110-3111: A New Workspace!

Written by Abigail Fraeman, Planetary Geologist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory
A black and white view of Mars

This image was taken by the Left Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3109. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

We’re on the road again! Curiosity drove ~44 meters on sol 3109, so we’ve left our scenic view at “Bardou” behind in the rear-view mirror… er… rear Hazcam… er…. actuaaaallllly, to be perfectly precise, front Hazcam since we drove backwards. It was exciting to start planning tosol with a new workspace at our wheels, and we also had views of rocks with great textures on the horizon.

Today’s plan will be a standard “touch and go” sol, meaning we’ll snap a few photos and laser a rock, squeeze in some quick contact science to analyze the area in front of the rover, and then drive on to our next target all before we need to send the data back so that it arrives on Earth in time for us to see it before making Friday’s plan. The contact science target today will be a vein named “Gourdon,” and we’ll also acquire ChemCam LIBS nearby on the same vein on a target named “Molieres.” We’ll additionally collect ChemCam passive spectral and Mastcam multispectral data on a different vein target named “Pech Du Loup,” and we’ll take several Mastcam images to capture the colors and textures of nearby rocks.

For our drive, we’re aiming for a target that is located just above a rock the team informally started describing as having tiger stripes. This “tiger stripe rock” is included in the above image, and I bet you can figure out which one it is! The apparent stripes are likely caused by veins that jut out at low angles and are more resistant to erosion than the surrounding rock. It should be great fun to get a closer of view of this and the surrounding rocks in Friday’s plan.

May 4, 2021

Sol 3109: Oh, 'Caneda!'

Written by Mark Salvatore, Planetary Geologist at University of Michigan
A color view of a target named "Sarlat la Caneda"

This image of the target named "Auriac" was taken by the Mast Camera (Mastcam) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3107. The Auriac rock is roughly the size of an American football and is characterized by nodular textures along its sides. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS. Download image ›

Following a few small hiccups with different rover activities recently, Curiosity has a fully packed plan today! The MAHLI dust cover successfully closed yesterday, allowing us to move the robotic arm out of the workspace and to use it for a quick APXS analysis on a nearby rock target named “Auriac.” The Auriac rock is roughly the size of an American football and is characterized by nodular textures along its sides. The top of Auriac is relatively smooth, which is thought to be indicative of erosion as opposed to a change in rock properties within the relatively small target. ChemCam will also acquire a 5x1 LIBS raster on a target named “Sarlat la Caneda,” which is a typical patch of local bedrock with some interesting veins cutting through it. In addition to these two chemistry measurements, Mastcam will complete the imaging of the local bedrock surroundings, while ChemCam will also acquire a long-distance remote image mosaic of a target on "Mt. Sharp" that was first imaged about three years ago from a very different vantage point further downslope on Mt. Sharp. It will be really interesting to see how this new view will help us to understand the sedimentary structures exposed within Mt. Sharp. After these measurements, Curiosity will head east to a different bedrock region that shows evidence for additional alteration and diagenetic features including veins and “fin-like” features. The plan is for Curiosity to park at this new location for a few days before continuing her trek up Mt. Sharp over the weekend.

May 3, 2021

Sol 3108: Once More, with Feeling

Written by Michelle Minitti, Planetary Geologist at Framework
Curiosity on Mars

This image was taken by Left Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3107. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

Curiosity started the week at her familiar “Bardou” drill location on top of "Mont Mercou,” her departure stymied once again by a stubborn MAHLI cover. The effort to close the MAHLI cover over the weekend was unsuccessful, which meant that, as with the drive, our APXS analyses of the discarded Bardou drill sample and the drill hole cuttings did not execute. The focus of today’s plan was to tweak the command to close the MAHLI cover to help ensure its success, give the APXS analyses another try, and pick up a few last observations of the terrain around us.

In good instrument news, ChemCam successfully acquired a LIBS raster of the bedrock target "Jumilhac le Grand” over the weekend, clearing the way for us to acquire another raster in this plan. To complement the representative bedrock analyzed at Jumilhac le Grand, the team chose a collection of resistant, gray-toned knobs that dot the bedrock of this area for today’s target, dubbed “Monfaucon.” ChemCam will also acquire an RMI mosaic of one of the buttes to our east that we will (hopefully) be driving farther away from tomorrow.

Keep those collective fingers crossed for MAHLI success!!

April 30, 2021

Sols 3105-3107: Let's Try That Again…

Written by Abigail Fraeman, Planetary Geologist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Parts of the rover are visible in this Mars view captured by the Left Navigation camera

This image was taken by the Left Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3104. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

There was a small hiccup opening MAHLI’s dust cover at the beginning of sol 3103 plan which precluded many of the activities that we had hoped to complete in that plan, including the drive. We therefore started our morning still perched near the edge of "Mont Mercou" at the “Bardou” drill location. While it’s too bad we weren’t able to drive away, the team did a great job making lemonade out of lemons, and we took the opportunity to sneak in a few more observations before leaving. These will include filling in a small gap in our impressive Mastcam stereo coverage of the area and collecting an APXS observation over the densest portion of the dumped drilled sample.

We’ll begin our three-sol weekend plan by acquiring a ChemCam LIBS observation on a bedrock target named “Jumilhac le Grand,” a ChemCam passive spectral observation on a mixed vein and bedrock target named “Tour Blanche,” some Mastcam images of the nearby rocks, and Mastcam and Navcam observations to monitor the environment. After our remote sensing, MAHLI will snap a photo of the drill tailings pile, and then we’ll spend the evening and late night collecting APXS data from the dumped drilled sample and from the drill tailings pile. On the second sol of the plan, we’ll collect more Mastcam images, including some Mastcam multispectral images of the drill tailings, and environmental monitoring data. After night falls, we’ll run a second CheMin analysis on the Bardou drilled sample that is still stored inside the instrument. Finally, on the last sol of the plan, we’ll try once again to pack up and drive away, continuing our journey onwards and upwards.

April 29, 2021

Sols 3103-3104: Adieu, 'Bardou!'

Written by Ryan Anderson, Planetary Geologist at USGS Astrogeology Science Center
Part of the Curiosity is visible in this image of Mars

This image was taken by Right Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3102. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

The sol 3103-3104 plan marks the end of our campaign at “Bardou.” We’ll start off with Navcam and Mastcam atmospheric dust measurements, followed by several Mastcam stereo mosaics. The first will look for any changes in the target “Chavangnac.” Next we have a big 8x7 frame mosaic toward the southwest, followed by a 5x1 frame mosaic reshooting some of the cliff edge areas that were out of focus in a previous mosaic. We wrap up the morning of Sol 3103 with a ChemCam passive observation of the target “Tour Blanche,” a freshly broken rock surface.

The afternoon of Sol 3103 is full of arm activities. MAHLI will first take a picture of the Bardou dump pile, and then, like any tourist at a scenic vista, we will take a selfie! Once the selfie is done, Mastcam will take a series of pictures of the sampling system on the arm. Later in the evening, MAHLI will take a look at the CheMin inlet to make sure no sample material got stuck there. Finally, we’ll place APXS on the drill tailings for an overnight measurement.

On Sol 3104, MAHLI will take a picture of the APXS location, and then Mastcam will take a few additional frames of the panorama to the southwest, with the arm out of the way. Mastcam will also take a multispectral look at the Bardou dump pile.

With our final observations finished, we will bid “adieu” to Bardou and drive away. We’ll collect our standard post drive imaging, including clast survey with Mastcam and MARDI, and an extra “upper tier” Navcam subframe to help with targeting on Sol 3105.

April 27, 2021

Sol 3102: Putting a Bow on 'Bardou'

Written by Scott Guzewich, Atmospheric Scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
A black and white view of Mars

This image was taken by Right Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3101. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

We’re finishing up our activities at the "Bardou" drill hole today and in Wednesday’s plan. Our onboard laboratories, SAM and CheMin, have each completed their work, and today we will dump the remaining amount of rock sample out of the drill assembly onto the ground where APXS and MAHLI will study it in the afternoon and overnight.

This left relatively little time for additional science, and outside of planning a few Mastcam images, GEO spent most of the time today prioritizing activities that will occur tomorrow. As ENV theme lead, I included a long dust devil movie (nearly 30 minutes long) looking back down Mt. Sharp, roughly in the direction of this Navcam image (and note that we are parked at a tilt!). We are in early southern hemisphere fall and about to enter the “aphelion cloud belt” season on Mars. This is the cloudiest time of year on Mars, and we soon expect to see clouds filling our atmospheric movies and cloud shadows on the upper reaches of Mt. Sharp. We’ll start intensive monitoring of clouds beginning this upcoming weekend.

April 26, 2021

Sol 3101: What Lies Within

Written by Michelle Minitti, Planetary Geologist at Framework
A bedrock slab on Mars and part of a rover's wheel

A bedrock slab broken by the rover's wheels is visible in this image taken by Mast Camera (Mastcam) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3090. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS. Download image ›

SAM successfully analyzed the “Bardou” drill sample delivered to the instrument over the weekend, and the team was sufficiently satisfied with the results to decide we could begin the process of wrapping up our activities at the drill site and continue our climb up Mount Sharp. The main activity in today’s plan is “portion to exhaustion” where we clear out the sample in the drill stem. Before that effort, though, the team planned a full line up of remote observations of our surroundings. ChemCam planned two large RMI mosaics on the sulfate-bearing buttes towering over our future drive path further up "Mount Sharp." Previous Mastcam mosaics of these buttes have provided tantalizing peeks at stratigraphy within the peaks, and RMI will give us a slightly clearer picture of the layers and structures seen by Mastcam. Mastcam will acquire an 80+ image mosaic of the bedrock we crossed on our way up to Bardou, helping us build a fuller picture of the stratigraphy that makes up “Mont Mercou.” Mastcam will also peer inside a rock that Curiosity broke when settling in at the Bardou site. The image above is a grayscale Mastcam image of a bedrock slab broken by the wheels, with many fresh faces exposed. Mastcam will acquire a multispectral observation of the most prominent of the broken faces, dubbed “Tour Blanche,” a nod to the relatively white color of the fresh faces, at least compared to the rusty red surroundings! The team is excited to add these observations while at the same time looking uphill toward our next adventure!

April 23, 2021

Sols 3098-3100 Science on Mars: Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes!

Written by Lucy Thompson, Planetary Geologist at University of New Brunswick
Sol 3094 Mastcam image of the Bardou drill hole and powdered material.

This image of the Bardou drill hole and powdered material was taken by Mast Camera (Mastcam) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3094. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS. Full image and caption ›

It is always fun when we begin a planning day and the pre-planned activities get changed. Today was one of those days. The data we were expecting from the previous sol had not arrived at the start of planning, which happens from time to time. We could not be sure that all the previous activities had executed as planned. These activities included the first CheMin mineralogical analysis of the “Bardou” drill sample, the preliminary results of which the SAM team ideally like to see prior to accepting sample to their instrument. While discussing alternative activities for this plan just in case we never received the data, surprise, enough of the data began showing up to allow the original planned drop off to and analysis by SAM to proceed. I am always impressed with how adaptable and capable our team is on a day like this.

As well as the SAM EGA analysis of the Bardou sample, the weekend plan is full of imaging activities utilizing both the ChemCam RMI and Mastcam cameras. Mastcam will acquire mosaics to document a number of sand-filled cracks here on top of Mont Mercou (“Villamblard,” “Queyssac” and “Sabouret”), as well as an image of the Bardou drill hole and surrounding powder. Another of these sand-filled cracks (“Cherval”) will be imaged with the ChemCam RMI.

Parked on top of Mont Mercou gives Curiosity a spectacular vantage point to survey both the terrain we have driven over and future areas of interest. Based on orbital signatures, we are expecting to encounter a transition from relatively clay-rich to sulfate-rich rocks as Curiosity continues to climb Mount Sharp. This may signify an environmental change on Mars, and imaging will help us to monitor this transition and provide context for future exploration. ChemCam will acquire a long distance RMI mosaic pointed towards “Chavagnac,” within the sulfate-bearing unit behind the rover, to the south.

Environmental monitoring will include a Mastcam tau pointed towards the sun at different times of day, Mastcam crater rim extinction imaging to look for dust and Mastcam documentation of the edge of the Mont Mercou cliff. Navcam will also acquire images to monitor dust activity in the atmosphere and to investigate dust devil activity. Standard RAD, REMS and DAN activities are also planned.

As the APXS strategic planning representative today we had no activities. We are excited to analyze the chemistry of the Bardou drilled sample in upcoming plans, before driving away.

April 21, 2021

Sol 3096: Parked at 'Bardou' for the Next Steps on Drill Hole 31

Written by Susanne Schwenzer, Planetary Geologist at The Open University
Bardou drill hole on Mars

The 31st drill hole, named 'Bardou' is visible in this image taken by the Left Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3095. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

Drilling is always exciting, and the image above shows our 31st drill hole, named ‘Bardou.’ Have a look at yester-sol’s blog, where it also features prominently and was shown from a hazard camera perspective, tosol the image is from the left navigation camera. Can you spot the tiny hole? It’s just 0.6 inch in diameter, and I find it fascinating how structured the surface looks. There is a lot to see here, some things seem to be cross-cutting each other, which is always interesting. But it would be way too early to make any interpretation at this point. For now, we are looking forward to learning all about the mineralogy and chemistry of the sample. The next instruments to investigate it will therefore be SAM and CheMin, and CheMin will receive its sample in today’s plan.

While the chemical laboratory is busy with the preparation to measure this new sample, the cameras are continuing to look at the interesting features all around. ChemCam is peeking into the distance at what is mapped from orbit as the sulfate unit, to investigate textures in the units Curiosity will encounter in the future. Mastcam has a large mosaic in the plan to investigate the sedimentary structures around "Mont Mercou." In addition, there are environmental monitoring activities, looking at atmospheric opacity, dust devils and the clouds.