October 25, 2019

Sols 2567-2569: Butte and Tower Country

Written by Kristen Bennett, Planetary Geologist at USGS Astrogeology Science Center
Sols 2567-2569: Butte and Tower Country

Today Curiosity is in an incredible area, with interesting rocks in the workspace and towering buttes ahead of us. “Central Butte” is visible in the above Navcam image.

There are some color variations within the workspace, with some gray blocks right in front of the rover. We have three contact science targets in the weekend plan; two are a combination of APXS and MAHLI observations, and one is a MAHLI-only observation. “South Ronaldsay” is on a flat bedrock target, and the Dust Removal Tool will be used to clear the dust before the MAHLI and APXS observations. “White Craig” is a MAHLI and APXS target on a different block to characterize any potential variations in this area. Finally, “The Doups” is a MAHLI-only target in which we will look obliquely at the side of a block to investigate the sedimentary structures in this area.

The weekend plan is also chock-full of remote science. ChemCam will target South Ronaldsay, so we can compare these results to the contact science observations. ChemCam will also target “Ruvaal,” which is on another part of the bedrock in the workspace, to test for variations. Mastcam will take documentation images of both of these ChemCam targets. Additionally, there are two large Mastcam mosaics in the plan. Curiosity is now driving through butte and tower country, so we planned mosaics to cover two of the nearby buttes. One mosaic is of “Central Butte,” which we will continue to drive around. Another is of “Rapness,” which is off to the east of the rover.

After all these observations, Curiosity will drive towards Central Butte to start investigating the laminations that outcrop there. To add even more science observations to the plan, Curiosity will also take mid-drive imaging with Mastcam in order to get stereo information of the butte. Usually we get stereo by taking a Mastcam image of a target with both the right and left Mastcam cameras. But we can also obtain stereo by taking a picture, physically moving the rover a little bit, and then taking another picture. This butte is showing off some amazing laminations, so we are doing this long baseline stereo observation to better characterize this area.

October 23, 2019

Sols 2564-2566: The Early Rover Gets the Frost?

Written by Ryan Anderson, Planetary Geologist at USGS Astrogeology Science Center
Sols 2564-2566: The Early Rover Gets the Frost?

We’ve planned a busy next few sols for Curiosity! Sols 2564 starts off with ChemCam observations of the bedrock targets “Shetland” and “Pitmedden” and the vein “Gloup.” Mastcam will document those observation locations, and then take a small stereo mosaic of an outcrop named “Rock Nab.” These remote sensing observations will then be followed by contact science. MAHLI will observe the soil target “Clackmannanshire” as well as Shetland and Pitmedden, and will also take some routine monitoring pictures of the CheMin inlet. APXS will do a short observation of Clackmannanshire and an overnight observation on Shetland.

On Sol 2565 Curiosity will wake up extra early to do a ChemCam observation of the target Kinnordy, looking for any evidence of frost. This will be followed by Navcam movies watching for clouds and Mastcam observations to measure the dust in the atmosphere. After napping for a bit, ChemCam will repeat the observation of Kinnordy to compare with the early morning data, and Mastcam will document the target. We’ll then drive ~35 meters to the south and collect post-drive imaging, including some extra Navcams of the strata ahead and a Mastcam drive-direction panorama. Mastcam will also repeat its atmospheric dust observations.

Finally, on Sol 2566 Navcam will collect a dust devil movie and another cloud movie and ChemCam will make an autonomous measurement of a target in front of the rover. In the evening of sol 2566, MARDI will take a documentation image of the ground beneath the rover.

October 21, 2019

Touch-And-Go… Towards Some Impressive Strata!

Written by Lauren Edgar, Planetary Geologist at USGS Astrogeology Science Center
Touch-And-Go… Towards Some Impressive Strata!

Curiosity is currently driving towards a good vantage point in Glen Torridon where we hope to assess the contact between two geologic units that were first identified from orbit, as seen in the above Navcam image. Since we’re approaching this transition, we want to make sure we get sufficient contact science to document any changes. Today’s plan includes contact science, a short science block, and a drive.

I was the SOWG Chair today, and it was a quick and straightforward planning day. We’ve implemented some new changes to our operations procedure to make things more efficient here on Earth. On Mars, Curiosity will begin her day with contact science on the target “Orkney” to assess the chemistry and sedimentary structures within a small block of bedrock. Then ChemCam will acquire a 10x1 raster across “Orkney,” and Mastcam will acquire three documentation images of the AEGIS targets from the weekend plan. Then Curiosity will take a short ~5 m drive to another small outcrop to prepare for even more contact science tomorrow. After the drive we’ll take post-drive imaging to prepare for upcoming targeting and driving. I can’t wait to see what these upcoming buttes reveal!

October 18, 2019

Sol 2560-2562: Planning, If There Are No Images…

Written by Susanne Schwenzer, Planetary Geologist at The Open University
Looking at the foothills of Mt. Sharp from the last parking position. This image was taken by Right Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 2557 (2019-10-16 09:15:45 UTC).

Looking at the foothills of Mt. Sharp from the last parking position. This image was taken by Right Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 2557 (2019-10-16 09:15:45 UTC). Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

We did not receive our decisional data from MRO in time for today’s planning, so we decided to make the best use of the time and energy available using the untargeted investigations available to us.

Mastcam is busy with a 360 panorama, which will give context to all our past and future investigations in the area. In addition to the daytime ground-based observation, Mastcam wakes up in the dark to do an astronomical investigation of Phobos, followed – in daytime - by some calibration activities.

It’s not only Mastcam who will be busy over the weekend, though. ChemCam has two observations, which will together investigate three targets. As regular readers of this blog will know, ChemCam can use AEGIS, an image processing routine to find its own targets. It will be looking for one target in the workspace, and two to the side of the rover. We are now all looking forward to data from 5 sols of Curiosity activities – stay tuned!

October 17, 2019

Sol 2556: New View, New Science

Written by Michelle Minitti, Planetary Geologist at Framework
In this Navcam view, the smooth, granular surface of one of the “Culbin Sands” megaripples extends across the local bedrock.

In this Navcam view, the smooth, granular surface of one of the “Culbin Sands” megaripples extends across the local bedrock. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Our drive away from our long-time home at the “Glen Etive” drilling site was successful, and set us up nicely at our next exploration site, one of the “Culbin Sands” megaripples. The main goal of today was to scuff the ripple, intentionally driving into the ripple with our front right wheel to churn up and expose its interior. By studying the composition and grain size of the ripple interior and exterior, the team hopes to determine the origin and history of these megaripple features. Before exposing the interior of the ripple with the scuff, the team acquired data from the ripple exterior, specifically the ripple crest. The ten shot ChemCam raster across the ripple crest, on the target “Seilebost Beach,” will provide insight into the chemistry and size distribution of the grains on top of the ripple.

After shooting Seilebost Beach, the rover will back up just over one meter and then acquire Mastcam and Navcam mosaics encompassing the whole of the ripple. These will give us one last pristine look at the ripple in its entirety before the wheel digs in. The rover will then scuff the ripple and then position itself so that the scuff is within reach of the arm and mast instruments for several subsequent days of science observations focused on the scuff. Once parked in place, MARDI will acquire an image of the ripple surface under the rover and DAN will ping the new ground beneath the rover with an active measurement.

The sky above us is always changing, so the rover acquired Navcam movies to look for clouds in the sky and any shadows they cast on Mt. Sharp, an atmospheric chemistry analysis with APXS, and regular REMS and RAD observations.

October 15, 2019

Sol 2557: Scuffing Sand

Written by Fred Calef, Planetary Geologist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Rover wheel scuff at "Culbin Sands."

Rover wheel scuff at "Culbin Sands." Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Yestersol's drive purposely ran over a megaripple (fine grained sandy ripple with a coarser pebble coating) to create a "scuff" which churned up and bisected the feature to observe any layering or material within. Today, the science team chose to inspect the interior of the wheel track scuff and the original undisturbed ripple surface. ChemCam targeted "Sandwood Bay," the fine-grained, disturbed scuff wall and "Glensanda," the coarser grained ripple flank, along with documentation Mastcam color imaging. The rover also plans to exercise its arm and explore the chemical signature of the sand with an APXS measurement over the ripple crest called "High Plains." To investigate the grain size and angularity, MAHLI is planned, at various heights, to cover High Plains as well as "Burrowgate" in the scuff and "Corsewall," along the scuff wall, of course! Lastly, a Mastcam mosaic will cover this ripply area, dubbed "Culbin Sands," in color imaging.

October 14, 2019

Sol 2550: Last Views of the Glen Etive 2 Drill Sample

Written by Ashley Stroupe, Mission Operations Engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory
The two Glen Etive Drill holes.

The two Glen Etive Drill holes. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Monach Isles potential meteorite
Monach Isles potential meteorite. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

In the sol 2250 plan, we are focusing on cleaning out the remaining sample within the drill and doing contact science analysis on the dumped sample. While the arm is still out of the way, we have about an hour for targeted observations. Both ChemCam and Mastcam will be taking a look at “Penicuik,” a pebble target, and “Monach Isles,” a potential small meteorite, seen in the Mastcam image attached. We’re also doing some standard environmental observation suite: a Mastcam crater rim extinction and tau, and a Navcam supra-horizon movie.

After the targeted observations, the Rover Planners are dumping out the drill sample, and then taking MAHLI images of the dumped sample, the drill hole and tailings, and the SAM Inlet 1. Using proximity mode to avoid touching the surface, we’ll finally do some APXS integrations on two positions over the dump pile.

October 11, 2019

Sols 2553-2555: Hitting the Road

Written by Lucy Thompson, Planetary Geologist at University of New Brunswick
Front Hazcam image of the APXS in place over the Glen Etive 2 drill fines dumped from the drill bit assembly. Glen Etive 1 and 2 drill holes can be seen to the right.

Front Hazcam image of the APXS in place over the Glen Etive 2 drill fines dumped from the drill bit assembly. Glen Etive 1 and 2 drill holes can be seen to the right. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Everyone on the MSL team is excited to be planning to drive away from the “Glen Etive” location this weekend and continue our exploration of the lower slopes of Mount Sharp and the clay bearing unit. Before we drive away on the third sol of this 3-sol plan however, we are planning a few last activities to wrap up our investigation of the Glen Etive 2 drill hole and environs.

On the first sol of the plan (2553) MAHLI will take a selfie of the rover with our 22nd and 23rd drill holes on Mars in the background (Glen Etive 1 and 2); smile Curiosity! MAHLI will also image the ChemCam RWEB (Remote Warm Electronics Box) to take images of the ChemCam telescope window to check for dust. While the arm is in a favourable configuration we also plan to acquire Mastcam imaging to fill in some gaps in the previously acquired 360° mosaic. Following the imaging, Curiosity’s arm will be used to place the APXS ~1 cm above the drill tailings surrounding the Glen Etive 2 drill hole, before integrating on the tailings overnight. We will compare the chemistry of the tailings with the material dumped from the drill bit assembly (acquired in the previous plan) and the brushed rock surface to look for variations in composition with depth for the Glen Etive 2 drill hole. The tailings are derived from <2 cm depth, and the dump pile is derived from >2 cm depth and is representative of the fines delivered to the rover’s internal CheMin and SAM instruments. The measurement will also allow us to make a full comparison with other drill holes.

At the beginning of the second sol (2554) MAHLI will take an image of the tailings to document where the APXS was placed, before the arm is moved out of the way to facilitate remote sensing observations. These include environmental monitoring of the atmosphere with Navcam and Mastcam along with a Mastcam multispectral observation of the Glen Etive 2 dump pile, ChemCam LIBS on the Glen Etive 2 dump pile and tailings, and Mastcam documentation imaging of the ChemCam targets. During the overnight of sol 2554, CheMin will run their third X-ray diffraction analysis of Glen Etive 2 to help refine the mineralogy of the sample.

An early morning science block on sol 2555 will allow the Environmental group to continue their cadence of atmospheric observations. After the planned drive to a megaripple, we will take a Mastcam clast survey and a series of post-drive images to facilitate targeting in the new workspace, and to aid with planning of our next drive.

Standard background REMS, RAD and DAN activities are also planned.

October 9, 2019

Sols 2551-2552: Analyzing the Glen Etive 2 Drill Sample

Written by Kenneth Herkenhoff, Planetary Geologist at USGS Astrogeology Science Center
Sols 2551-2552: Analyzing the Glen Etive 2 Drill Sample

The APXS was not perfectly centered over the Glen Etive 2 dump pile on Sol 2550, so the APXS team requested repositioning for another overnight integration on the dump pile rather than on the tailings as strategically planned. Power was an issue for planning, which made for a challenging day for me as SOWG Chair, but we were able to fit some remote sensing observations into the busy plan.

On Sol 2551, MAHLI will take images of the dump pile to see whether the APXS contact sensor made an imprint in the pile. Late that evening, MAHLI will image the CheMin inlet port and the wall of the drill hole using its LEDs for illumination. The APXS will then be placed on the center of the dump pile for an overnight integration, with CheMin performing another mineralogical analysis of the Glen Etive 2 drill sample in parallel.

On Sol 2552, MAHLI will take another image of the dump pile, to look for a new APXS imprint. Then ChemCam will fire its laser at a bedrock target dubbed "Skelbo" to measure its chemical composition. The Right Mastcam will take an image of Skelbo, then Navcam will search for clouds and dust devils before imaging the sky to measure variations in brightness and constrain the size of dust particles suspended in the atmosphere.

October 8, 2019

Sol 2549: A Slow Monday on Earth, but an Exhausting One on Mars

Written by Mariah Baker, Planetary Geologist at Johns Hopkins University
Sol 2549: A Slow Monday on Earth, but an Exhausting One on Mars

Due to a brief network issue last week, the team had to postpone certain rover activities until after the weekend. As a result, today became “Drill sol 5,” which included the “portion to exhaustion” sequence of the latest drill campaign, during which the rover will portion out the remainder of the drill sample and prepare to dump drilled material onto the surface for further assessment.

Besides the portion to exhaustion activities, the schedule also included a one-hour science block. Luckily, the team had already put together a straightforward plan for this block that required few modifications, making today a relatively low-key planning day, ideal for transitioning slowly back into the work week.

The activities planned for the science block included a special ChemCam passive observation on a distant outcrop called “Bloodstone Hill,” as well as a more standard ChemCam LIBS on “Berryden,” one of the many pebbles seen scattered across the surface (some of which are shown in the Mastcam image above). Mastcam observations included a documentation image of Berryden, a deck image that is used to monitor the accumulation of material on the rover, and a repeat image of the Glen Etive drill hole, taken in preparation for close-up MAHLI images planned for the coming sols. Ten minutes of the one-hour block were allocated for environmental observations, which consisted of two Navcam images that will help characterize dust-lifting processes within Gale crater. Despite the simplicity of today’s planning on Earth, the rover has a lot to get done before tomorrow. Let’s just hope all the activity doesn’t “exhaust” her... it’s only Monday, after all!