July 20, 2022

Sols 3539-3540: When Mars Throws You a Curveball…

Written by Elena Amador-French, Science Operations Coordinator at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Image taken by Left Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3536.

This image was taken by Left Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3536 (2022-07-18 09:16:22 UTC). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

The rover has been making its way along the “Bolivar” ridge, dodging small boulders and rocks that have apparently eroded off the hillside as seen in the above engineering camera image. Unfortunately, due to the complex terrain our last drive ended about 11 meters short of its anticipated location. Because of the unexpected rover heading, the antenna we usually use to uplink plans directly from Earth was blocked by terrain. This precluded our ability to send our normal 1-sol plan today, so instead we’ll use an orbiter tomorrow to relay our commands for two sols. Today as Science Operations Coordinator my job was to make sure the engineering team at JPL and the international science team were communicating effectively and efficiently as we reworked our plan around the unexpected constraints.

Today’s team did a fantastic job, pivoting to a slightly more complex 2-sol plan but one that allowed for additional science observations to be made. Our plan includes studying the apparent layering of the “Surama” target with our MAHLI instrument to search for fine-scale layering. This rock seen here on the right side of the rover’s workspace, appears to be one that has rolled down from the Bolivar ridge – a “float” rock. We will also place our APXS instrument on the top of the rock to analyze its chemical composition. This information can then be compared to other compositions measured along our traverse. Will it be in family with those we have seen already, or will we find more similar compositions as we continue to ascend, hinting at its source?

Because we ended up planning two sols today, we had plenty of time to plan remote science observations. This included Mastcam and ChemCam imaging of the Bolivar ridge and surrounding rocks. We will also use our engineering cameras to take images that monitor for dust accumulation in the atmosphere and dust devils on the ground. Lastly, we will continue driving-on to the southeast, skirting the Bolivar ridge, and making our way towards the canyon visible in the top left-hand corner of the above image.

July 18, 2022

Sol 3537: Approaching Bolivar

Written by Kenneth Herkenhoff, Planetary Geologist at USGS Astrogeology Science Center
This image was taken by Left Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3536.

This image was taken by Left Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3536. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

The Sol 3536 drive went well, getting MSL closer to the cliffs of interest toward the south of the rover. This one-sol plan includes both arm activities and another drive, squeezed into the time available before the mid-afternoon opportunity to "phone home." Mastcam will be busy at the start of the plan, measuring the amount of dust in the atmosphere above the rover, imaging the back side of the big Ilha Novo Destino boulder that was the subject of several investigations last weekend, and acquiring stereo mosaics of a bright outcrop named "Issineru," the layered bedrock capping the nearby "Bolivar" hill, and a boulder named "Arumim" that appears to have rolled down from Bolivar. Then ChemCam will fire its laser at a nearby bedrock outcrop target dubbed "Cerro Raya" and acquire an RMI mosaic of sedimentary structures in the Bolivar caprock seen along the skyline in this Navcam image. I supported the ChemCam team today by adjusting both target locations to ensure good coverage of interesting features. Mastcam will also acquire a stereo mosaic of the bedding exposed near the rover, which will include the Cerro Raya target, before taking a break while MAHLI takes images of the laser spots on Cerro Raya. There isn't enough time in this plan for DRT brushing of the MAHLI target, so we're hoping that ChemCam's laser will clean some of the dust off of Cerro Raya so that fine grains and micro-textures will be visible to MAHLI. After the arm is stowed, Mastcam and Navcam will image the workspace to look for material that may have spilled out of the drill assembly. Then a short drive toward the southeast is planned, followed by the standard post-drive imaging that will be used to plan Sol 3538 activities, and another MARDI twilight image of the ground behind the left front wheel.

July 15, 2022

Sols 3534-3536: A Chip off the Old Block

Written by Catherine O'Connell-Cooper, Planetary Geologist at University of New Brunswick
This Front Hazard Camera from Sol 3533 shows the boulder “Ilha Nova Destino.”

This Front Hazard Camera from Sol 3533 shows the boulder “Ilha Nova Destino.” Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

We have been making our way to a large boulder “Ilha Nova Destino” (which from the distance looks remarkably like the Hogwarts Sorting Hat from Harry Potter!) and landed about 3 metres back from the block. Although we would have loved to get closer, the boulder is as large as the rover (as tall as an SUV) and considerably less stable looking, appearing to be almost perched up on one side. To reduce danger to Curiosity, we planned to keep our distance, just getting close enough for ChemCam LIBS.

ChemCam will combine LIBS compositional measurements (on targets “Serra Dourada,” “Serra Nova Olinda” and “Serra da Lua”) and RMI imaging (on targets “Ilha de Maraca” and “Ilha Sao Lourenco”) to conduct a very thorough survey of the rock. Mastcam will undertake a multispectral analysis of the boulder, and image “St Marys” along the base of the boulder, looking at the contact with the underlying bedrock. Mastcam will also target a second large float rock “Wineperu,” which can be seen to the right of the Ilha Nova Destino boulder in the Front Haz camera image above.

As APXS Strategic Planner this week, I was disappointed that we would not get close enough to use APXS to look at the composition of this large boulder. But, almost magically, when we started planning this morning, we discovered a small float block that may have broken off Ilha Nova Destion - you can see this float "Monte Caburai" in the shadow in front of the boulder in the Front Haz camera image. This float block was close enough to allow both APXS and MAHLI to analyze it. Additionally, MAHLI were able to add a “dogs-eye” (a set of overlapping images which are used to make a larger mosaic) along the base of Ilha Nova Destino, looking at the layering.

In addition to this, ENV will continue to monitor environmental conditions in Gale, tracking dust level changes in the atmosphere and watching for dust devils on the ground. REMS will record temperatures and DAN continues to look for evidence of hydrogen (hydrogen detection may indicate the presence of water in minerals). We will drive onwards on the third sol of the plan, driving to the right past Wineperu, which will allow us to look back at Ilha Nova Destino and get some images of the back of the boulder.

July 13, 2022

Sols 3532-3533: A Rover-Sized Boulder

Written by Lauren Edgar, Planetary Geologist at USGS Astrogeology Science Center
This image was taken by Left Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3531.

This image was taken by Left Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3531. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

Curiosity is back on the road, but some interesting boulders caught our attention and led to a short detour. The team was already planning to divert to the southwest to get some imaging of nearby cliffs, but the large boulders that have tumbled down provide a tantalizing glimpse of what’s to come. Boulders like the large one shown in the above Navcam image (now named “Ilha Novo Destino”) can help inform our understanding of the upcoming stratigraphy, so we thought it was worth a trip to this “new island destination” for the weekend.

But first, there’s plenty of science to be done in our workspace before we get to the boulders. Today’s two-sol plan focused on DRT, MAHLI, and APXS on the bedrock right in front of the rover, including the interesting vein and fracture patterns shown in the foreground of the above Navcam image. Today we planned 3 MAHLI imaging targets and 2 APXS targets to assess the sedimentary textures and composition of bedrock and veins. We also planned ChemCam LIBS and Mastcam multispectral observations to further characterize this outcrop. Mastcam will also be used to document the field of boulders to help plan weekend activities, and ChemCam will acquire a long distance RMI mosaic to characterize the stratigraphy. The ENV theme group planned several environmental monitoring activities to search for dust devils and monitor dust and clouds in the atmosphere. On the second sol, Curiosity will drive to a parking spot right in front of these boulders to prepare for the weekend plan. Can’t wait to see this rover-sized boulder up close!

July 12, 2022

Sol 3531: Moving Right Along! Again!

Written by Abigail Fraeman, Planetary Geologist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory
This image was taken by Left Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3530.

This image was taken by Left Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3530. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

Since we finished up with our “Avanavero” drill activities yesterday, we’re officially back on the Martian road to the layered sulfate-bearing unit! Today we just planned a single sol’s worth of activities, and filled the day with contact science, remote sensing, and a 50m+ drive. The remote sensing and contact science activities include a MAHLI and ChemCam LIBS observation of a bedrock target named “Uai Uai,” as well as Mastcam regular and multispectral images of a vein-rich rock target named “Las Nieves” and a layered rock named “Luepa.” We’ll also use both Mastcam and Navcam to monitor the atmosphere.

My tactical role today was “Surface Properties Scientist,” also known as the SPS. I helped the rover drivers assess whether Curiosity’s parking spot was stable enough to retract the arm for the MAHLI observations, and any terrain hazards that might affect the drive. Several of Curiosity’s wheels were perched on rocks today which made the stability assessment particularly interesting, but after a lot of discussion with the rover drivers, we all agreed there was minimal risk of the rover shifting when we unstowed the arm. I’m looking forward to tomorrow when we’ll be able to see the MAHLI images we collected today, and to finding ourselves a little closer to the sulfate-bearing unit.

July 11, 2022

Sol 3530: Leaving Avanavero

Written by Ken Herkenhoff, Planetary Geologist at USGS Astrogeology Science Center
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 July 10, 2022, Sol 3528 of the Mars Science Laboratory Mission.

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 July 10, 2022, Sol 3528 of the Mars Science Laboratory Mission. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS. Download image ›

The MAHLI images acquired on Sol 3528 confirm that the APXS was well placed over the Avanavero drill tailings, and the APXS data look good so we are ready to drive away from this location. But first, we are planning a few more MAHLI and remote sensing observations. ChemCam will shoot its laser at a vein target named "Chiung" on the right side of the rover, then will acquire another RMI mosaic to extend the coverage of a bright mound with numerous veins. Mastcam will also extend stereo coverage of the "Amacuro" outcrop, document ChemCam's Chiung target, and monitor changes in the distribution of material on the rover deck. After Navcam searches for dust devils, Mastcam will look for changes in nearby rover tracks at Kamana. The arm will then be deployed to acquire another MAHLI image of the drill tailings to determine whether the APXS touched the tailings during the overnight integration planned on Sol 3528. MAHLI will also take images from 25 and 5 cm of a vein named "La Laja." Then the arm will be stowed for the drive. We are not expecting to receive as much data as usual for future planning, so downlink priorities were carefully reviewed, especially for the post-drive images.

July 8, 2022

Sols 3528-3529: Everyone Gets to Savour the Avanavero Flavours!

Written by Lucy Thompson, Planetary Geologist at University of New Brunswick
RMI of the Avanavero drill hole and fines taken by Curiosity's ChemCam on Sol 3523.

This image was taken by Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3523. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL. Download image ›

Both the CheMin and SAM instruments have dined on the Avanavero drill samples and have decided their appetites are sated. CheMin has completed X-ray diffraction mineralogical analysis of the Avanavero drill sample, and SAM their Evolved Gas Analysis. Both instrument teams are satisfied with their analyses and SAM are not opting to do a Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry run. Now it is the turn of MAHLI, APXS and ChemCam to investigate the flavour of the drill fines around the Avanavero drill hole for texture and chemistry, finishing up observations at this site before we drive away next week. The composition of the drill fines determined by APXS and ChemCam will help the CheMin and SAM teams refine interpretations of their data. The science team are all eagerly awaiting their results as we drive through this interesting transition from clay-bearing to sulfate-bearing strata. As the APXS payload downlink/uplink lead and strategic planner today, I worked with the rover engineers to find the best placement for APXS to ensure that we fill as much of our field of view as possible with the fines. I also realized that our new drilling strategy required a MAHLI image co-located with the APXS placement, so that we can determine that we did indeed target the drill fines before we drive away in the next plan.

As well as finishing up our investigations of the Avanavero drill site, we took advantage of our time here to add to our inventory of imaging and compositional data, which will result in this being a well-studied area. As well as LIBS of the drill fines, ChemCam will analyze a resistant, plate-like feature, “Ekereku” (also documented with Mastcam) and acquire an RMI mosaic of an interesting lighter coloured expanse of bedrock in the distance. The pre-existing Mastcam mosaic of the well-layered strata associated with “Marbura Hill” will also be extended to provide improved context, textural and structural information.

When Curiosity is parked in one spot for more than a few sols, the team often takes advantage of the situation to monitor any changes to the surface over that time. As part of these change detection observations Mastcam will continue to monitor the movement of the drill fines around the hole, and any sand/soil movement in the wheel tracks (“Karouni,” “Kamana” and “Simibi”). In contrast, the environmental science team planned several observations to continue monitoring changes in atmospheric conditions. These included: Navcam line of sight images, a large dust devil survey, suprahorizon movies, and a zenith movie.

Because SAM and CheMin are finished with drill sample, both will execute activities to ready their respective instruments for the next time we drill. The SAM instrument will remove the sample cup from the SAM oven in preparation for driving, and CheMin will perform an empty cell analysis to check for any remaining sample after they dumped the fines in the previous plan. Standard REMS, DAN and RAD activities round out this plan.

July 6, 2022

Sols 3525-3527: A Plan Fit for a Rover

Written by Mariah Baker, Planetary Geologist at Center for Earth & Planetary Studies, Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum
NASA's Mars rover Curiosity took 36 images in Gale Crater using its mast-mounted Right Navigation Camera (Navcam) to create this mosaic on July 4, 2022, Sols 3522-3509.

A Navcam mosaic of the rover’s current location at the Avanavero drill site. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

Tosol’s plan included a little bit of everything, with more than four hours of remote science spread over three sols. However, the rover is still in the midst of the Avanavero drill campaign, so all desired observations had to be strategically fit in around important drill-related SAM and CheMin activities.

Remote science observations also sometimes come with their own timing constraints, so it was the job of the team on shift to schedule all activities in an efficient way, and to ensure coordination between any activities that might influence one another. For example, while there was no contact science in this plan, Mastcam of the drill tailings will be used to assess wind conditions and mitigate risk to the MAHLI camera when it images the drill hole in a future plan. Mastcam images of the rover's wheel tracks (target “Kamana”) and sand ripples (target “Karouni”) will also be used to study wind activity.

Mars is currently in the dusty season, so a significant portion of the plan was dedicated to studying environmental conditions during this dynamic time of year. The team worked together to find time to slot environmental activities around geologic observations, including a 26-minute-long ChemCam passive sky image. Additionally, the team scheduled a Navcam suprahorizon movie, a Navcam dust devil survey and dust devil movie, a Navcam “line of sight” image, and two Mastcam “tau” images to measure atmospheric dust levels.

Remote science activities included three ChemCam LIBS observations on rock targets “Araca,” “Isla Caou,” and “Guarento,” each of which was also accompanied by a Mastcam documentation image. A coordinated Mastcam multispectral observation of Isla Caou will be used for comparison against ChemCam data on the same target. The team also found time to include a large ChemCam RMI observation covering part of Gediz Vallis Ridge, rounding out a very full plan for the ChemCam instrument.

When the team was informed that SAM and CheMin activities were placing tight constraints on the time and power available on the first two sols, some remote science activities had to be moved to the third sol where they fit better. This included observations that needed to be acquired at atypical times of sol for lighting reasons. A set of Mastcam images, including a multispectral of “Bolivar” and a mosaic of the Gediz Valles Ridge required morning illumination to avoid shadowing, and a set of photometry observations needed to be acquired late in the afternoon to provide comparison data with similar images collected at other times of sol.

Tosol’s rover planning was busy, but successful. The team worked together to fit as much high-quality science as possible within the allotted time and to collect data needed to support ongoing and future drill-related activities at this site.

June 30, 2022

Sols 3519-3524: Eyeing Kukenán

Written by Abigail Fraeman, Planetary Geologist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory
This image was taken by Left Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3515 (2022-06-26 19:35:29 UTC).

This image was taken by Left Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3515. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

Curiosity is continuing to proceed through our pre-planned checklist of activities that we’ve made for drill campaigns. The team is currently waiting for the downlink that contains data from CheMin’s first analysis of the Avanavero drilled sample, and we will use these data to help us decide whether to analyze the sample with SAM as well. While we wait today, we planned a whopping six sols worth of activity that will cover the upcoming July 4th US holiday. The main activities in the plan included a second evening of analysis of Avanavero with CheMin, and an activity to prepare the SAM instrument to accept a sample so that we can be ready to say “Go for sample analysis!” on Tuesday after we see the CheMin results.

We planned lots of remote sensing activities around the tasks of our SAM and CheMin onboard laboratories. We will be collecting several high resolution Mastcam mosaics of the area and environmental sensing data. We’ll also collect ChemCam LIBS observations of rock targets named “Tocobirem” and “Uaiparu,” a soil target named “Simibi,” and the drill hole itself. On top of that, ChemCam will also acquire two long distance RMI mosaics, one over Gediz Vallis ridge, and one over a far distant hill (shown in the center of the above Navcam) we decided to name “Kukenán.” Kukenán’s Earth namesake is a tepui, or distinctive isolated table-top mountain, found in South America. The Martian Kukenán is also somewhat flat topped and an impressive expression in Mt. Sharp’s topography. While it looks like it’s about the same size as the hills that bound it in the above Navcam image (“Deepdale” on the left and the edge of “Bolivar” on the right), this effect is just due to forced perspective. In reality, Kukenán is nearly five times farther away and over three times as tall as Deepdale! Curiosity’s strategic traverse path takes the rover right past Kukenán in about a kilometer or so, so this feature will become a familiar landmark rising in our windshield for months to come.

June 28, 2022

Sols 3517-3518: Digging Into Our New Drill Hole

Written by Mariah Baker, Planetary Geologist at Center for Earth & Planetary Studies, Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum
Mastcam image of Avanavero drill hole acquired on sol 3512.

Mastcam image of Avanavero drill hole acquired on sol 3512. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS. Download image ›

After a successful drilling of Avanavero, the team is ready to dig even deeper into our investigation of this new drill target. Tosol’s plan includes an important part of this process: our initial analysis of the drilled sample with the CheMin instrument. In addition, the team planned three full hours of remote science activities at this new drill site, including a ChemCam LIBS observation on the wall of the Avanavero drill hole. A second ChemCam LIBS on target “Pipillipai” will be used to assess chemical variability in local bedrock.

Two extensive Mastcam stereo mosaics will be used to characterize interesting textures in the “Manga Brava” target and to extend coverage of rocks adjacent to the prominent “Bolivar Butte.” A portion of the distant “Pediment Edge” will be imaged with both a Mastcam mosaic and a ChemCam RMI observation. Lastly, tosol’s plan will include a large set of observations for monitoring local dust activity, including two Navcam dust devil surveys, a Navcam dust devil movie, a Navcam line of sight image, and a Mastcam “tau” image. A Navcam suprahorizon movie and Navcam zenith movie will be used to track cloud movement.

Tosol’s plan will be the first of many focused on analyzing the Avanavero drill target. Over the coming sols, the rover’s diverse suite of onboard instruments will be used to collect a large amount of information on the drill hole and surrounding rocks. The team is looking forward to digging into these data in order to characterize our newest drill target on Mars!