MISSION UPDATES | December 13, 2019

Sols 2615-2617: Keeping up the Pace on the Western Butte

Written by Catherine O'Connell, Planetary Geologist at University of New Brunswick
Hazcam image showing the view towards the top of Western Butte.

Hazcam image showing the view towards the top of Western Butte. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Today, we planned a 3-sol weekend plan. Usually, the first day of a weekend plan is chock full of contact science, with evening and overnight analyses on a couple of different targets with APXS and MAHLI, plus ChemCam on several targets in the workspace, followed by a drive on the second sol. This weekend will be unusual, as the entire first day of the plan will be dedicated to the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument. SAM will run a daytime experiment to investigate methane levels in the atmosphere. This rare experiment is a chance to get some exciting science observations, but we'll need time after the experiment to analyze the data; we don't expect to have any takeaways right away.

The SAM experiment is very power intensive, so we are skipping our usual contact science here in favor of a more pared down science plan. Curiosity is keen to keep moving up Western Butte (one of a series of hills in this area). We are traversing rocks which are stratigraphically higher than those we have previously crossed, and everyone is eager to see what lies ahead. So rather than stay here too long, the geology theme group (GEO) opted to drive onwards, after a short early morning analysis (an aptly named “Touch and Go” analysis) on the target “North Esk” with MAHLI and APXS. ChemCam and Mastcam will investigate two bedrock targets “Bruces Haven” and “Aultbea” and then we drive roughly 22 meters further up the side of the Butte.

As we climb higher up the Butte, the views just keep getting better. Mastcam is going to image both along the Western Butte, and the top of the Butte and beyond, to a horizon that we hope to reach next year. Once the drive ends, Mastcam and Navcam will image the workspace to help us choose targets next week. In addition to the SAM experiment, the environmental theme group (ENV) planned activities to monitor dust and atmospheric conditions in Gale crater, and routine DAN and REMS activities.

I was the APXS Science planner this week. Climbing up the side of this Butte and reaching new stratigraphic highs has made for an exciting week, with everyone keen to see where the preceding day’s drive has brought us.