January 30, 2020

Sols 2660-2661: A Geologic Six Pack

Written by Michelle Minitti, Planetary Geologist at Framework
Sols 2660-2661: A Geologic Six Pack

Yesterday’s drive successfully moved us uphill and closer to the “Greenheugh" pediment. The rocks around us were a riot of shapes, colors and textures, making it difficult to limit ourselves to which ones we would look at. The image above captures the six (yes, six!) targets we managed to fit in the plan today. The team is trying to understand how (or if) the bedrock chemistry changes as we move closer to the Greenheugh pediment, as the pediment marks a change in rock type from the majority of rocks we have encountered through the clay-bearing “Glen Torridon” unit. As such, many of our targets were dedicated to the bedrock today. MAHLI and APXS will analyze “Cullivoe” and “Bogmill Pow,” the former after it has been brushed by the DRT. Cullivoe represents the flatter, smoother areas of the bedrock free of veins or other erosion-resistant features while Bogmill Pow is one of the rough, multicolored areas of the bedrock. ChemCam will analyze a similarly complementary pair of targets. The goal is for “High Possil” to represent the background bedrock in this area, while “Duncairn” specifically focuses on an erosion-resistant feature that appears to be emerging from its host bedrock. Veins were a particularly spectacular feature of the workspace, often exhibiting white interiors and thin, gray exteriors. The most notable example is the bright, linear feature in the center of the image, given the name “Tilicoultry,” with a gray slab broken off and sitting on the sand to the right of the vein, named “Hastigrow.” This pair, and the bedrock and sand surrounding them, will be imaged using the Mastcam multispectral technique, which ought to help uncover the differences among the bedrock and the parts of the vein.

Curiosity will intersperse observations of the sky among all those of the ground. Mastcam will acquire early morning images to measure the dust load in the atmosphere, and Navcam will acquire late afternoon movies to look for clouds and dust devils. RAD and REMS maintain their steady watch of the weather and radiation environment in Gale, and DAN will seek signals of hydrogen from under the rover both before and after we drive. Yes, as hard as it will be to leave this spot, higher elevations call! We will drive to the highest accessible bedrock exposure just below the pediment in hopes that we can interrogate its chemistry over the weekend. Surely, more excitement awaits!

January 29, 2020

Sol 2659: Heading for the Bench!

Written by Catherine O'Connell-Cooper, Planetary Geologist at University of New Brunswick
Front Hazcam image showing the bedrock target at the centre of today's plan.

Front Hazcam image showing the bedrock target at the centre of today's plan. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

Today the geology theme group (GEO) planned a single sol with a short science block (ChemCam and Mastcam) and contact science (APXS and MAHLI), followed by a drive towards the bench along the side of “Tower Butte.” The bench is an area that we are very interested in, as it marks a potential contact between the mudstones and sandstones that we have been driving over and a “capping” rock, which looks quite different. As we drive, we are looking for changes in chemistry and sedimentary processes, which can help us understand one of the big questions we are wrestling with right now: “Why are these buttes here?!!"

APXS and MAHLI are analyzing the bedrock target “Lost Valley,” (the larger block in the centre of the image above) whilst ChemCam and Mastcam are analyzing two other bedrock targets “Balantyre” and “Aberdeenshire.” Mastcam will also image a very intriguing rock “Hill of Stake” outside of the range of the other instruments, and further imaging of the “Greenheugh” pediment, which we hope to climb onto before this year is out.

Once these activities are complete, we start to climb further up the hill towards Tower Butte, hoping to end up with more bedrock in our workspace for a more complete compositional picture.

The environmental theme group (ENV) crammed activities into this short sol too, including “full tau” and “crater rim” observations, which allows the ENV group to quantify dust in the crater and overhead in the atmosphere. REMS will acquire temperature, pressure, humidity, and UV radiation measurements. DAN continues its search for subsurface hydrogen, with frequent passive (utilizing cosmic rays as a source of neutrons to measure hydrogen) and post-drive active (actively shooting neutrons from the rover) measurements.

January 28, 2020

Sol 2658: Touch and Go

Written by Ken Herkenhoff, Planetary Geologist at USGS Astrogeology Science Center
Sol 2658: Touch and Go

The Sol 2657 drive went well, so we have new bedrock exposures to explore on Sol 2658. The goal for today is to get good chemical and remote sensing data in this location before proceeding uphill toward the south. A "touch-and-go" sol is planned, starting with a short APXS integration on a bedrock slab named "Marchmont." MAHLI will take some images of Marchmont, then the arm will be moved out of the way for ChemCam observations of Marchmont and "Inverness Shire," a darker block sitting on the bedrock surface. Right Mastcam will then take images of the ChemCam targets and "Whitelaw Moss," another slab of bedrock. Mastcam will also acquire a 13x3 stereo mosaic of the west side of Tower Butte to examine its sedimentary structures. After a 23-meter drive and the usual post-drive activities, ChemCam will use AEGIS to automatically select a bedrock target in the rover's new location. Finally, MARDI will take an image during twilight. The tactical planning team did a great job, which made for an easy day for me as SOWG Chair.

January 27, 2020

Sols 2656-2657: Rover Activity Planning "Gaming" Finesse

Written by Susanne Schwenzer, Planetary Geologist at The Open University
MAHLI image featuring bedrock and veins. This image was taken by MAHLI onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 2654 (2020-01-24T01:51:11.000Z).

MAHLI image featuring bedrock and veins. This image was taken by MAHLI onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 2654 (2020-01-24T01:51:11.000Z). Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS. Download image ›

Curiosity continues to function normally on Mars. We are at a very interesting point with potential changes in rock chemistry. That always gets the geochemists like me to sit up and pay extra attention. But we don’t always get it our way, because other investigations are just as important. Today’s plan is a two-sol plan with the third day being a soliday, which did not make it any easier. As the Science Operations Working Group chair put it: “This plan is a two-sol plan, but it surely doesn’t feel like it with all the details!” So, we waited anxiously for the plan to be combined from all the fragments and get the engineering judgement on power. Unfortunately, and despite serious efforts that reminded me of trying to play Tetris and Sudoku in the same game, the power available was not enough to get it all done. In a case like this, careful considerations are required regarding what observations are specific to the location or the time, and which ones could wait for the next plan. It was the ENV group, who today gave up an observation to make it all fit, but retains the crater rim extinction and the full tau observation.

From a geochemist’s perspective the most interesting part of the story at the current location is that we see two different types of bedrock. One is characterized in the images by a smoother appearance and veins in it. This type is the primary focus on the plan. But there is nodular bedrock, too. APXS has the smoother bedrock in reach and will measure the target “Rannoch Moore” as an evening investigation and “Sauchiehall” as an overnight, long duration target after DRT. MAHLI will document both targets. ChemCam will investigate “Rannoch Moore” in conjunction with APXS, and has the targets “Janetstown,” also on smoother bedrock, and “Glenalmond” on the nodular version.

At our current location, we have an excellent view of several buttes and the Geenheugh pediment. This is reflected in a very busy plan for Mastcam. The Greenheugh pediment and Tower Butte are images together in a 19x4 mosaic, but there are two more observations with mosaics on Western Butte and the trough feature in front of us. This will allow for detailed analysis of the sediments, but also aid the upcoming drives. Exciting times at a very interesting location!

ENV’s activity is a sunset tau, and MARDI, DAN and REMS measurements as well as post-drive imaging complete this very busy plan. In addition to all the observations, Curiosity is set to drive 50 metres – uphill! I am sure Curiosity is happy and ready for a recharging soliday after this plan!

January 21, 2020

Sols 2653-2655: Attitude Adjustment

Written by Scott Guzewich, Atmospheric Scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
Curiosity's arm and Mars surface

Image of the rover's arm taken over the weekend. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Last Friday’s plan was designed to ensure Curiosity had enough knowledge of its orientation to proceed with arm activities and mobility.

We learned this morning that plan was successful and Curiosity was ready for science once more!

And a very full science plan was made! Much of today’s plan was recycled from last Friday’s intended plan, including contact science with APXS and MAHLI on bedrock targets Moffat Hills and Trossachs. There also was a plethora of ChemCam LIBS targets, a Mastcam mosaic of Western Butte, Mastcam multispectral images on Trossachs, and ENV movies to search for clouds and dust devils while also documenting atmospheric dust levels.

Today’s plan also included a rare measurement with APXS to measure the argon abundance in the atmosphere.

Approximately 25% of Mars’ carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere condenses on the winter polar ice cap, while trace gases like argon do not. This leads to seasonal variations in the relative fraction of argon to carbon dioxide in the air. APXS can measure this argon variation by simply turning on and looking at the sky while the arm is stowed. Seeing argon vary through the year is akin to watching Mars breathe!

January 20, 2020

Sols 2649-2652: Curiosity Loses Its Attitude

Written by Dawn Sumner, Planetary Geologist at University of California Davis
This Hazcam image shows Curiosity's arm extended out to perform an APXS analysis of the bedrock. Curiosity has to know the exact angle of every joint to move safely.

This Hazcam image shows Curiosity's arm extended out to perform an APXS analysis of the bedrock. Curiosity has to know the exact angle of every joint to move safely. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Knowing where our bodies are helps us move through the world. We know if we are standing or sitting, if our arms are out or by our sides (or for some people, not there at all). This body awareness is essential for staying safe.

Rovers also need to know where their bodies are relative to their surroundings. Curiosity stores its body attitude in memory, things like the orientation of each joint, which instrument on the end of its arm is pointing down, and how close APXS is to the ground. It also stores its knowledge of the environment, things like how steep the slope is, where the big rocks are, and where the bedrock sticks out in a dangerous way. Curiosity evaluates this information before any motor is activated to make sure the movement can be executed safely. When the answer is no - or even maybe not - Curiosity stops without turning the motor. This conservative approach helps keep Curiosity from hitting its arm on rocks, driving over something dangerous, or pointing an unprotected camera at the sun. These safety checks require an accurate knowledge of the rover position within its environment and are an essential part of good engineering practice. They have kept Curiosity safe over the years.

Partway through its last set of activities, Curiosity lost its orientation. Some knowledge of its attitude was not quite right, so it couldn't make the essential safety evaluation. Thus, Curiosity stopped moving, freezing in place until its knowledge of its orientation can be recovered. Curiosity kept sending us information, so we know what happened and can develop a recovery plan. That is exactly what we did today: The engineers on the team built a plan to inform Curiosity of its attitude and to confirm what happened. We want Curiosity to recover its ability to make its safety checks, and we also want to know if there is anything we can do to prevent a similar problem in the future. This approach helps keep our rover safe.

January 13, 2020

Sols 2645-2646: A Strange Trough on Western Butte

Written by Melissa Rice, Planetary Geologist at Western Washington University
Sols 2645-2646: A Strange Trough on Western Butte

While descending from Western Butte, Curiosity has stopped to investigate a strange trough along the way. In the images from orbit, it looks like someone drew a thick straight line with a dark felt marker on the southeastern side of the butte. From the ground, it looks like a shallow ditch filled with dark sand. We don’t know what created this feature, or why it happens to be right here, so it’s worth stopping for a closer look.

Over the weekend (Sols 2642-2644), Curiosity drove downhill and parked at the top of the trough, which we named “Balgy.” The main event in today’s plan (Sols 2645-2646) is a large Mastcam stereo mosaic covering both sides of Balgy Trough. We’ll also take a smaller Mastcam stereo mosaic of laminated rocks nearby called “Baljaffray,” and grab a quick set of MAHLI and APXS observations on the bedrock target “Kennedys Pass.” After that, Curiosity will finish descending from Western Butte and will head south.

January 11, 2020

Sols 2642-2644: Contact Science at Western Butte

Written by Lauren Edgar, Planetary Geologist at USGS Astrogeology Science Center
Sols 2642-2644: Contact Science at Western Butte

Curiosity is still on the shoulder of Western Butte at a location that provides a good vantage point, exposes changes in stratigraphy, and reveals some interesting float blocks in our workspace. On Wednesday (planning Sols 2640-2641) we were able to conduct contact science on a bedrock target named “Buchan Haven,” as seen in the above MAHLI image, which also shows where the Dust Removal Tool (DRT) cleared away a fresh surface. The three sol weekend plan is our second opportunity to do contact science here.

I was the SOWG Chair today, and it was a pretty busy day of planning. The plan kicks off with several ChemCam observations to assess the chemistry of a nodule target “Strathy Point,” a vein target “Abernethy,” and bedrock target “Glen Clunie,” along with Mastcam documentation of these rocks. Then MAHLI and APXS will be used to characterize the grain size, sedimentary structures, and chemistry of “Lomond Hills” (a dark float block that might represent the butte capping unit), and “Abernethy” (an interesting vein). The second sol includes additional remote sensing, with several long distance RMI mosaics to assess the stratigraphy of the pediment and Gediz Vallis ridge, and a Mastcam multispectral observation of a light-toned vein at “Hascosay.” The Environmental theme group planned a number of atmospheric monitoring observations, including a Mastcam tau, crater rim extinction, Navcam line of sight, and dust devil and suprahorizon movies. Then Curiosity will drive ~45 m to the northeast, down the eastern slope of the butte. After the drive we’ll acquire imaging to help with context and targeting for next week. On the morning of Sol 2644, Curiosity will acquire additional environmental monitoring observations, and then run a SAM atmospheric methane observation.

January 9, 2020

Sols 2640-2641: Like a Dog Under the Table…

Written by Roger Wiens, Geochemist at Los Alamos National Laboratory
Sols 2640-2641: Like a Dog Under the Table…

The Curiosity rover is still at the highest point it will reach on “Western Butte,” having done a short bump to allow it to do contact science. You can check out the map of Curiosity’s location here. The team would like to understand the composition, morphology, and ultimately, the origin of the capping unit of this butte. An image of this capping unit is shown above, taken by the Mastcam M100 camera on Sol 2635. The rocks look really interesting and unusual, but the butte is too steep to drive to the top to sample them. Fortunately, nature is kind to us, and somewhat like humans drop scraps to their pet dog under the table, nature has rolled some samples down to where the rover is. Some of those samples were highlighted in an earlier post. I gave a presentation within the team today on the first results of those rocks, while the rover makes more observations of them and of other features in the area.

Today the team planned two action-packed sols. Our planning session started rather late due to the lateness of the data downlink. This plan is a big opportunity for contact science, as the rover is on stable ground after being for several days with a wheel perched on a rock. Targets “Buchan Haven” (overnight) and “Heinrich Waenke” will be observed by APXS. The DRT is planning to be used. MAHLI will take images of “Abernethy,” “Lochmond Hills,” “Buchan Haven,” and “Heinrich Waenke” (as close as 1 cm standoff distance). Additionally, there are Mastcam images of “Hangingstone Hill” (a dark float rock, potentially from the capping unit), “Strathy Point” (a nodule), “White Rashes” (local bedrock), and a 15x8 “Glen Torridon Mount Sharp Ascent Route” mosaic with the M100 camera. Mastcam will also observe “Buchan Haven,” “Crianlarich Hills” (2 images), and will take an image of the calibration target. ChemCam will do a combination of long-distance imaging and compositional analyses of targets near the rover. The latter are “Hangingstone Hill,” “Strathy Point,” and “White Rashes,” mentioned above. The long-distance mosaics are “Glen Docherty” and “LD Sulfate 2640a.” Navcam will take a dust-devil movie. There is also a DAN active observation, a SAM scrubber activity, a Mastcam full tau, and RAD and REMS get-data activities.

The contact-science target “Heinrich Waenke” honors a late German scientist of that name (1928-2015) who was instrumental in the development of the APXS instrument, which was originally on the Sojourner rover, then was used on MER, and is now on MSL.

January 8, 2020

Sol 2639: SAM Is Feeling Better

Written by Kenneth Herkenhoff, Planetary Geologist at USGS Astrogeology Science Center
Sol 2639: SAM Is Feeling Better

Sunrise was late this morning in Earth's mid-northern latitudes, so I made a point of looking for Mars before dawn when I woke up. It was easily visible above Antares, the brightest star in Scorpius, named "not Mars" in Greek because it is about as red and bright as the planet. Seeing that point of light in the morning sky reminded me how far away Mars is, and how fortunate we are to be operating a rover on its surface.

Later this morning, when planning began for Sol 2639, SAM was still marked sick, so the strategically planned bump was replaced with targeted science. Mastcam will extend the stereo mosaic of Western Butte and take a multispectral set of images of the "Ben Eighe" outcrop (upper right of center). After the re-planned bump to fix the wheelie, the AEGIS software will be used to autonomously acquire ChemCam observations of 2 targets in the new workspace, Navcam will search for dust devils, and MARDI will again acquire an image of the ground behind the left front wheel during twilight.

Late during tactical planning this afternoon, SAM was marked healthy, so things are looking up for Sol 2640-2641 planning tomorrow.

January 7, 2020

Sol 2638: All Too Familiar

Written by Ryan Anderson, Planetary Geologist at USGS Astrogeology Science Center
Sol 2638: All Too Familiar

We found out that over the weekend the planned “bump” to get the rover in position for contact science didn’t execute. That meant that when we started planning today, we were greeted with the familiar view of the workspace from last week. Although it was disappointing that we weren’t able to do contact science today, the bright side was that instead we got a massive 2 hour science block! We’re in a great position to observe the Gediz Valles deposits (informally named “the claw”) on top of the Greenheugh Pediment, so the Sol 2638 plan has three more ChemCam RMI mosaics in addition to the two collected over the weekend. The giant science block also allowed us to fit two ChemCam chemistry observations in. One was a follow up observation right next to the vein target Hascosay that was observed on sol 2636. Hascosay had some very interesting chemistry, so the new target “Northon” will take another look just a few centimeters away. The other ChemCam chemistry target is a small rock named “Bruntsfield” that looked a bit different than some of the other rocks in the area. Mastcam will document the two chemistry targets and then will collect a 3x1 mosaic of a group of rocks named “Clachtoll” to study their textures.

Amusingly, even though the target names Clachtoll and Bruntsfield were chosen at random from our long list of potential names, we learned that they were very familiar to one of our team members! He told us that he spent a lot of time camping at Clachtoll (the one on Earth, presumably) on one of his first major geology projects, and Bruntsfield was the name of a neighborhood in Edinburgh where he had lived! We resisted the urge to rename Clachtoll to simply “Sanjeev’s tent.”

The Sol 2638 plan is rounded out with some atmospheric observations: a dust devil movie at the end of the long science block, and a couple of movies to watch for clouds early in the morning on Sol 2639. Hopefully the bump will go well in the 2639 plan and we’ll be back on track for contact science later in the week!

January 6, 2020

Sols 2635-2637: Doing a Wheelie

Written by Claire Newman, Atmospheric Scientist at Aeolis Research
Dust devil survey image looking across the crater trench toward the northern rim on sol 2632.

Dust devil survey image looking across the crater trench toward the northern rim on sol 2632. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

At the start of planning for the 3-sol weekend plan, we were told that telemetry showed one of Curiosity’s middle wheels was lifted ~15 cm off the ground following the previous drive. This meant we needed to do a short ‘bump’ to adjust the rover’s position ready for Monday’s planning and had to postpone the contact science we want to do while the rover sits at its highest point on Western Butte. Instead, we focused on doing all the remote surface science needed here and catching up on atmospheric monitoring observations after the holidays. Remote sensing observations included ChemCam rasters and Mastcam images of dark float blocks (“Shiskine” and “Lauderdale”) and a vein complex (“Hascosay”), RMI mosaics on Gediz Valles mound materials (“Craw Tap” and “Gowrie”), Mastcam multispectral observations of Lauderdale, and Mastcam mosaics of the Western Butte top and the Greenheugh Pediment. We also took a MARDI image to monitor surface changes underneath the rover.

Atmospheric science activities included our regular REMS atmospheric monitoring, RAD radiation monitoring, and DAN passive and active measurements of the subsurface. In the first sol, we also planned a Dust Devil Survey to look for dust-filled convective vortices around local noon, when convection is strong. This was followed by late afternoon activities in the first sol and early morning activities in the third sol, all of which involved making measurements of aerosols (dust or water ice). The two timings were chosen partly so we have some idea how aerosols change with time of sol, but also because imaging early or late in the day is often the best time to find clouds, because relative humidity increases when temperatures cool (provided the amount of water vapor stays the same). In the late afternoon on the first sol, we planned Mastcam measurements of the atmospheric aerosol opacity in the column above us and Mastcam and Navcam measurements of the visibility across the crater. We also planned three cloud observations with Navcam: a Phase Function Sky Survey - a set of images that we use to infer the properties of cloud particles; a Cloud Altitude Observation - movies of clouds and their shadows on Mt. Sharp that, in combination, allow us to infer both the height and speed of the clouds; and a Supra-Horizon movie that looks for clouds over the rim of the crater. Finally, early in the third sol we again measured the column and across-crater opacity with Mastcam, then took Navcam Zenith and Supra-Horizon movies to look for clouds above Mt. Sharp and the crater rim, respectively. Finally, the SAM team decided to repeat an atmospheric observation to measure the methane abundance, and this was performed in the third sol of the plan.

Having ‘un-wheelied’ in this plan, next week we’ll be doing the contact science we missed over the weekend, then heading down the Western Butte again and toward the Greenheugh pediment.

January 2, 2020

Sol 2634: Happy New Year From Mars!

Written by Lucy Thompson, Planetary Geologist at University of New Brunswick
Curiosity’s workspace at the top of Western Butte for the next few sols.

Navcam left image: Curiosity’s workspace at the top of Western Butte for the next few sols. Note the dark, angular blocks resting on the paler, in-place bedrock and the more resistant rock layer capping the slope in the background, behind Western Butte. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The two MRO passes that should have downlinked the data from Curiosity’s New Year activities, to enable planning today, got delayed during processing on the ground. We did not get the images of our workspace until just prior to when we were supposed to deliver our plan. The Tactical Uplink Lead for the day gave us permission to delay delivery, and the team efficiently managed to add two targeted ChemCam analyses of bedrock (“Ben Eighe” and “Braid Hills”), with accompanying Mastcam documentation imaging. The rest of the plan was filled with untargeted environmental observations including ChemCam passive sky, a Navcam dust devil survey and cloud movie observations, as well as the standard REMS, DAN and RAD activities. A SAM scrubber clean and transfer data were also included, following on from SAM atmospheric measurements over the holiday period. Finally, a Navcam 3x1 mosaic was planned, which should facilitate targeting with Mastcam and the ChemCam Remote Micro-imager in upcoming plans.

The planned drive from the previous sol executed flawlessly, resulting in a stunning view of the top of Western Butte, and a workspace strewn with dark angular float rocks (not in place), on top of the paler, in-place bedrock. The previous workspace had also included intact bedrock with dark, angular float rocks. We received closer up images and compositional data for some of these float rocks over the holidays, revealing some interesting similarities to rocks encountered a lot earlier in the mission. The geologists are trying to figure out the relationship of the dark, angular blocks to the in-place bedrock, and intact darker, resistant, capping rock observed at the top of slopes immediately behind Western Butte. Everyone is excited to be able to continue to investigate the bedrock and float rock at this location, as well as to document the view afforded to Curiosity from this vantage point near the top of Western Butte.