February 24, 2021

Sols 3042-3043: Watch Your Step!

Written by Mark Salvatore, Planetary Geologist at University of Michigan
Part of Curiosity rover and a view of Mars

This image was taken by Left Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3040. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

Curiosity presses on to the east within Gale Crater, characterizing compositional variations within the underlying bedrock as we continue to march uphill and encounter sedimentary rocks that record the ancient geologic and environmental conditions within the crater. Over the past 35 sols, Curiosity has covered more than 600 meters of lateral distance as we approach these unique compositional transitions observed from orbit. The science team is continuing to make detailed analyses of the regional bedrock to make sure that we understand these transitions from the ground as well.

In today’s plan, Curiosity will be conducting a touch-and-go APXS chemistry analysis on the bedrock target "Manzac" located in front of the rover. She will also be acquiring high-resolution images of the path ahead to aid with future planning, making a suite of environmental observations, and collecting ChemCam passive spectral data on another interesting bedrock unit in front of the rover named “Tranchecouyere." One additional observation will be acquiring high-resolution color images of the target “Tourtoirac," located behind the back-right wheel of Curiosity. This target was a victim to Curiosity’s recent drive, which resulted in this rather large rock tilting onto its side under the pressure of Curiosity’s wheels. It now sticks up at approximately a 45° angle, which will allow scientists to get a good look at whether there are any well-preserved layers or morphologies that are present along the side of the rock. It’s a great bonus observation that might not have been possible had Curiosity driven a few inches in a different direction!

February 22, 2021

Sols 3040-3041: The Mars Fleet

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

This image was taken by Left Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3038. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

Eleven (Curiosity, Perseverance, InSight, Odyssey, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, MAVEN, Mars Express, the Trace Gas Orbiter, the Mars Orbiter mission, Tianwen-1, and Hope) spacecraft are now concurrently exploring Mars from the surface and orbit. That incredible fleet produces synergistic science discoveries that would not be possible with any one spacecraft in isolation. In today’s plan, we will conduct one such joint observation with the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO). TGO studies the chemical composition of the martian atmosphere as we do with ChemCam through a “passive sky” observation. In a passive sky observation, ChemCam looks at the sky at different angles and positions and we are able to learn about the properties of dust, water ice clouds, and measure abundances of atmospheric gases like oxygen. By combining our work with TGO, we can measure the abundance of such gases from the surface all the way up to the top of the atmosphere!

Outside of this atmospheric observation, today’s plan was a routine touch-and-go. We picked a representative piece of bedrock in the workspace (“Plazac”) for MAHLI and APXS to study and then focused much of our remote sensing science on a fascinating ~18 ft tall cliff (“Mont Mercou”) that can be seen at the top left of this Navcam image. Both Mastcam and ChemCam will image Mont Mercou today and we are driving toward it over the next several plans.

February 19, 2021

Sols 3037-3039: Mars – a Two-Rover Kind of Planet!

Written by Catherine O'Connell-Cooper, Planetary Geologist at University of New Brunswick
First image of Mars sent back by Perseverance rover

This is the first image NASA’s Perseverance rover sent back after touching down on Mars on Feb. 18, 2021. The view, from one of Perseverance’s Hazard Cameras, is partially obscured by a dust cover. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image

Congratulations to Perseverance and the whole Mars 2020 team! An amazing achievement at any time but even more so during a global pandemic. I don’t think there was a dry eye yesterday, viewing that first image from Mars (shown above) after the incredible nail biting descent. We are all looking forward to the amazing science that will be done by our sister rover in Jezero Crater!

But while everyone is still on a euphoric high from yesterday’s success and the knowledge that we again have two working rovers on the planet’s surface, we had to buckle down and get back to work in Gale today. Our plan today was complex, with many different activities for both the geology (GEO) and environmental (ENV) theme groups. We are continuing our drive across a rubbly, fractured terrain, analyzing bedrock as we go. APXS, MAHLI, ChemCam and Mastcam are tag teaming on a representative bedrock target (“Chalus”) in today’s workspace to maximize our understanding of this rubbly, fractured bedrock. Additionally, ChemCam is doing a series of passive (non-laser) observations on “Carlux,” “Carsac” and “Castels” – a tongue twisting group of names! These observations will be accompanied by Mastcam observations of the same targets, and of a fifth target “Issac” near the front of the rover.

Our drive on sol 3038 takes us almost 45 metres closer to a hill called “Mont Mercou,” which is about 200 metres away from us right now, and the beginning of what we believe to be more sulfate-rich materials. For over 3000 sols (roughly eight years), we have been driving over fluvio-lacustrine sediments (typically found in rivers and lakes), with occasional forays into sand dunes (ancient and current). However, we have been eyeing this potentially sulfate-rich material for years, watching it get closer and closer. The transition from clay-rich to sulfate-rich is both puzzling and extremely important, and one we are looking forward to getting into!

February 17, 2021

Sols 3035-3036: The Gift of Exploration

Written by Michelle Minitti, Planetary Geologist at Framework
Black and white view of Mars

This image was taken by Left Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3032. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image

It is truly hard to believe it has been over 8 years - more than 3000 sols - since Curiosity landed in Gale. Most of the science team was crammed into one room at JPL to watch the landing events and (hopefully) celebrate together. When I think back to JPL’s Al Chen declaring “Touchdown confirmed, we’re safe on Mars!” - lo these many years later - I still burst into tears. The feeling of unadulterated joy and disbelief never leaves. I will never forget the raucous explosion in that room - friends and colleagues united in joy and excited for the opportunity to explore Gale crater. Everything we have done since - every image, every measurement, every meter we climb up Mt. Sharp - was enabled by that safe landing. A safe landing on Mars is a gift that keeps on giving, a gift our whole team is grateful for.

Curiosity did her best to honor that gift in this plan, gathering as much as knowledge as she could at this stop before driving on. Mastcam and ChemCam will take mosaics that capture the character of the terrain around us - an intimate mix of sand and bedrock - and the stunning layered buttes that await us farther up Mount Sharp. They will also survey the surrounding bedrock using their multispectral modes that use reflected light to probe mineralogy. MAHLI and APXS will further build our knowledge of the terrain we are on with imaging and chemical analysis of a target that is a mix of sand and rock. Navcam and Mastcam will gaze up into the atmosphere that Curiosity passed through to safely reach the surface, each measurement they make contributing to safer, surer landings in the future. And REMS, RAD, and DAN will make measurements that will make it safer for humans to make the trip to Mars.

Tomorrow, if all goes well, a new team poised for a new set of adventures will get to feel the same joy and excitement we did in August 2012. The Navcam image above looks toward the direction of Perseverance’s landing site in Jezero crater. Curiosity wishes Perseverance a safe last leg of her journey, the opening of a new gift of exploration.

February 16, 2021

Sol 3034: Mars Science Buffet

Written by Sean Czarnecki, Planetary Geologist at Arizona State University
A black and white view of Mars

This image was taken by Left Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3032. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image

Curiosity is staying put in today's plan and feasting on some bonus science. Our goal remains to traverse away from the rocks we have determined are clay-rich and toward the overlying sulfate-rich rocks uphill. But for the current plan, the team decided to stay at this location a little longer and get a better taste of what the rocks here have to offer before executing a longer drive toward the sulfate strata in the following plan.

Our appetizers include standard activities for DAN, REMS, and RAD as well as Navcam and Mastcam monitoring of the atmosphere and dust devils. Our science buffet includes ChemCam and Mastcam images of targets "Beauregard" and "Sorges," which have interesting dark inclusion features that have been seen recently and these observations will help the team understand them better. (We don't expect these to be chocolate chips, but better to get good images to be sure...) Mastcam is also imaging the bedrock target "Labraud" and sand target "Fleurac." MAHLI and APXS are hungry for science as well, so we will get MAHLI images and APXS analysis of the brushed target "Limeyrat," a perfect target for dessert. Yum!

February 10, 2021

Sols 3028-3029: Tracking Transition Composition

Written by Lucy Thompson, Planetary Geologist at University of New Brunswick
In this image, Curiosity's APXS it's on the “Brantome” bedrock target

This Front Hazcam image was taken in the morning of Sol 3027 with the APXS on the “Brantome” bedrock target (yesterday’s plan). Note the blocky terrain immediately in front of the rover and the basal sulfate-bearing unit layers in the background. NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

Curiosity is on the final approach to the base of the sulfate-bearing unit identified from orbit as a region of interest within Gale crater long before we landed. The base of the unit marks a change from the underlying clay-bearing strata (rock layers) that Curiosity has been investigating for the last two years. Clay minerals are typically associated with wetter environmental conditions and sulfate minerals with drier conditions, so the contact between the two may represent a significant change in environment. It is therefore important that we carefully document the rocks for texture, structure and composition as we transition from the clay-bearing to sulfate-bearing unit, looking for gradual or abrupt changes that may help to elucidate what happened at this boundary.

Curiosity will first unstow her arm and place the APXS on the rock target “Firbeix” for a short analysis to determine the chemistry of the representative bedrock, before taking close-up images with MAHLI. As the APXS payload uplink lead today, I am responsible for overseeing the planning of the APXS measurement. After stowing the arm, the ChemCam instrument will take a passive spectroscopic observation of the “Feiullade” bedrock target, and RMI observations of another bedrock target “Fraisse” and the basal layers of the sulfate-bearing unit ahead. We will also image the Firbeix, Feiullade and Fraisse targets with Mastcam, and look at some sand cracks and the fractured terrain ahead with Mastcam mosaics. Curiosity will then drive carefully over this blocky terrain for a planned distance of ~35 meters. After the drive has executed, a MARDI image will be taken to capture the terrain beneath the two front wheels.

The second sol of this two-sol plan is dominated by environmental observations to monitor the atmosphere including a ChemCam passive sky observation, a Mastcam basic tau pointed towards the sun, a Navcam suprahorizon movie, dust devil survey and line of sight image. Standard REMS, RAD, DAN passive and active measurements will also be acquired.

Curiosity and everyone on the MSL team would also like to welcome Tianwen-1 to Mars. Congratulations to the Chinese space agency for a successful insertion into Mars orbit. It is an exciting time for Mars missions and science.

February 9, 2021

Sol 3027: A New Hope

Written by Abigail Fraeman, Planetary Geologist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory
This image was taken by Mast Camera (Mastcam) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3025. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS. Download image ›

This image was taken by Mast Camera (Mastcam) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3025. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS. Download image ›

This past weekend, Curiosity celebrated the start of a new year on Mars. The concept of a martian year is similar to an Earth year, mainly that it marks the time it takes Mars to go around the sun once. A key difference is that a martian year is 668 sols long, or about 687 Earth days. We count Mars years starting with a big dust event that occurred in 1956 that marked Mars Year 1, so Curiosity just rang in the start of Mars Year 36 at Gale Crater. There weren’t fireworks or a crystal ball drop like in Times Square, but it’s still fun to think about the way time is measured on other planets.

In today’s plan, Curiosity is continuing along its journey through the rubbly unit that marks the transition from the clay-bearing rocks of "Glen Torridon" to the salty sulfate-bearing strata ahead. We planned a MAHLI and APXS observation on a piece of bedrock on our workspace named “Brantôme,” Mastcam multispectral observations, and some Mastcam and ChemCam RMI mosaics of a small crater named “Rouchechuart” and distant strata we named “Riberac.” After these science observations, Curiosity will drive ~39 meters towards the sulfate-bearing unit, which we can see forming dramatic and inviting cliffs in the distance, as shown above.

At the beginning of our planning day Curiosity team members also celebrated the arrival of a brand new orbital neighbor, the Emirates Mars Mission “Hope Probe.” Hope is the first mission to Mars led by the United Arab Emirates Space Agency, and its arrival into Mars orbit this morning represents an extraordinary accomplishment. Welcome to Mars, Hope, we’re so excited to have you here!

February 8, 2021

Sols 3013-3014: It's Freezing Cold…

Written by Susanne Schwenzer, Planetary Geologist at The Open University
A color image of Mars taken by the Mars Hand Lens Imager on NASA's Curiosity.

NASA's Mars rover Curiosity acquired this image using its Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), located on the turret at the end of the rover's robotic arm, on Sol 3024 of the Mars Science Laboratory Mission. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS. Download image ›

It’s freezing cold right now here in Europe, with temperatures just below 32 F (0 °C), which sparked me to look at the weather report from Gale crater, provided by REMS, our weather station. I find that temperatures are between 21 and -101 F at Gale crater at the moment, that’s between -6 and -74 in degree Celsius. So, Mars is a lot colder than Earth in front of my window right now. But how cold is it compared to Earth temperatures more general? Well, in the UK, where I am located, the coldest day ever recorded was -17 F (-27.2 °C) in January of 1982, but there are much colder temperatures recorded on Earth, with the record being −128.6 °F (−89.2 °C) measured in July 1983 at the Soviet Vostok station in Antarctica. Are you feeling as cold as I am now?

Curiosity will continue to measure the temperatures regularly, and you can look at the weather report here: https://mars.nasa.gov/msl/weather/. In today’s plan there are also some atmospheric observations, looking at the crater rim and the horizon to investigate the dust load of the atmosphere, and conducting a dust devil survey.

In the last blog you saw the rather rubbly and broken up terrain the rover navigates at this location, and a close up, taken by MAHLI is shown in this blog. The bedrock is reddish and it has the white veins that we are by now so familiar with. What its exact chemistry is and how that compares to other locations is APXS’s task to find out. In today’s plan, APXS is therefore investigating the target "Labouquerie."

ChemCam is looking into the distance with a long distance RMI investigating target "Monbazilliac." Mastcam does double duty on the target Azerat, with stereo and multispectral imaging. It also adds a workspace image and a stereo mosaic on a ridge, target name "Grand Brassac," in the distance to its imaging work.

We are not here for long, though, as the next drive will immediately follow those investigations, so stay tuned for the next view of the rubbly landscape as early as tomorrow!

February 5, 2021

Sols 3024-3025: Roving Through the Rubble

Written by Melissa Rice, Planetary Geologist at Western Washington University
A black and white view of Mars

This image was taken by Left Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3022 (2021-02-05 06:20:27 UTC). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

Curiosity has just crossed the contact between two rock types: the fractured intermediate unit and the rubbly sub-unit. This weekend, Curiosity’s driving will be entirely within the rubbly material. It will be slow going because the rover has to navigate carefully around the jumble of pointy rocks – this stuff is called “rubbly” for a reason!

We don’t know exactly what is causing the rubbly character of the rocks here, and why they have weathered so differently from the adjacent, less-broken-up outcrop. As we drive through it, we plan to take frequent measurements of the chemistry and textures to better understand the unit’s origins. Today, the team selected two rubbly blocks to study with APXS and MAHLI: targets “Coutures” and “Biron.” ChemCam will also acquire a mosaic of RMI images over the rock “Sarrazac,” and Mastcam will document some of the blocks nearby with vertical faces.

Looking forward, Curiosity is heading to the sulfate unit, in the direction of the bright, smooth rocks seen towards the top of the Navcam image above. This weekend, Mastcam will be taking a panorama and multispectral images that cover the base of this sulfate unit and the cliff face seen on the left. These images will help the science team decide exactly where to direct Curiosity as the rover rambles through this rocky rubble.

February 3, 2021

Sols 3022-3023: At the Contact

Written by Kristen Bennett, Planetary Geologist at USGS Astrogeology Science Center
Parts of Curiosity rover are visible in this image of Mars

This image was taken by Right Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3020. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

Curiosity is currently within the fractured intermediate unit and in the previous drive the rover reached a contact between two sub-units. On one side of the contact there are many large broken pieces of bedrock (rubbly; left side of above image), while the other side is smoother (right side of above image). In this plan we are characterizing the contact before driving into the rubbly sub-unit.

Several Mastcam mosaics are planned that span across the contact so we can document this view. There is also a contact science target, “Tamnies,” that will be our last contact science target in this sub-unit before the rover crosses into the rubbly fractured intermediate unit. Both an APXS observation and MAHLI images are planned at Tamnies, in addition to a Mastcam multispectral observation.

The plan includes a Deimos transit observation in the afternoon. In this observation Mastcam will take several images to capture Mars’s moon Deimos as it moves across the sun.

A ~25-meter drive is planned for Curiosity to venture into the rubbly fractured intermediate unit and continue traversing towards the next key target: the sulfate unit.