February 26, 2020

Sol 2688-2689: Into the Unknown

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 2664.

This image was taken by Left Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 2664.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

Over the last couple of weeks, the Curiosity science team engaged in a series of long debates about where we should go after we completed our analyses of the Hutton sample. Our first option was to drive downhill and rejoin the strategically planned route that skirts the base of the Greenheugh pediment. The second option was to head the other way and drive uphill onto the top of pediment capping unit.

View of a potentially passible route onto the top of the Greenheugh pediment.
View of a potentially passible route onto the top of the Greenheugh pediment. (Area on the left).
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.
Download image ›
I love discussions like these. We’d always planned to drive on top of the Greenheugh pediment at some point, but the rover wouldn’t reach the access points identified from orbit for months, or possibly even years. However, while Curiosity was completing the drill campaign at Hutton, rover drivers working with surface properties scientists discovered a potentially passible route onto the top of the Greenheugh pediment that was accessible from our current location. So as a team we had to consider, were the science benefits worth trying to drive onto the pediment now, or we should wait until later as originally planned? In the end, we decided the science rationale to ascend now were so compelling, it was worth going for it.

The focus of today’s plan will be to execute the first of several drives that will take us to the top. We don’t expect to encounter slopes much greater than 25˚ in today’s planned drive, but subsequent drives will require the rover to ascend slopes of 30˚ or more. We’ve never driven up slopes this steep with Curiosity before, and we don’t actually know if the rover will be able to make it all the way up and over. However, all of our analysis shows this attempt won’t put any unusual risk on the vehicle hardware, so there’s no reason we can’t try!

Exploring Mars is always exciting, but for me, this has been a particularly fun and exciting time to be a part of the Curiosity science team. I love the feeling of exploring and venturing into the unknown. We don’t know if we’ll be able to make it onto the pediment capping unit here, but we know we’ll discover something completely new if we do reach the top.

February 24, 2020

Sol 2686-2687: The Tail End of the Hutton Drill Campaign

Written by Scott Guzewich, Atmospheric Scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
Studying drill "tailings," gray material surrounding the drill hole.

Studying drill "tailings," gray material surrounding the drill hole. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS. Download image ›

We’re wrapping up our Hutton drill campaign literally at the tail end. Specifically, today’s plan focused on studying those drill “tailings” (the gray material surrounding the drill hole in this MAHLI image) with ChemCam, Mastcam, MAHLI, and APXS. This phase of the drill campaign helps compare the SAM and CheMin laboratory analyses with the data from our remote sensing instruments of the same material from the drill hole. It’s always interesting to see that Mars’ red color is sometimes literally only skin-deep and underneath can be much more of a lunar gray.

We also packed in a few additional observations of some nearby rock targets, including an intriguing fin-like structure sticking out of the ground nearby called “Dunbartonshire.” We’ll look at it also with MAHLI and APXS on the second night of our 2-sol plan. ENV included a dust devil movie, but has been unable to do much additional long-distance imaging work at our current location due to the cliff surrounding us on three sides blocking our view in most directions.

February 21, 2020

Sol 2683-2685: And Still Using 'Many a Joule'!

Written by Susanne Schwenzer, Planetary Geologist at The Open University
This image shows the wide diversity of rocks at the Hutton site. It was taken by the Mast Camera (Mastcam) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 2680.

This image shows the wide diversity of rocks at the Hutton site. It was taken by the Mast Camera (Mastcam) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 2680. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS. Download image ›

The title of this blog is a quote from my fellow blogger Dawn Sumner’s poem in the sol 2676 to 2679 blog, and it seems the best way to capture our struggles once again. The reason for the focus on power is that we are still in the middle of the Hutton drill campaign. This gives us lots of things to do, but power constraints restrict what we can achieve each planning. But, we’ll get this all done, we just need to be patient (not this blogger’s personal best skill!). The focus of today’s planning is to progress with the drill activities, mainly dealing with the remainder of the portioning and then dumping the samples and getting APXS overnight on it. There was a lot of discussion how to play that ‘power tetris’ once again.

And we now have a lot in the plan! First, arm movements are required to carry out further portioning of the sample, and then dump the sample. Mastcam, APXS and MAHLI are documenting the chemistry and textures of the dump pile.

Documenting the area far and near is one of the priorities for ChemCam and Mastcam. There are two RMI mosaics to document the buttes around us, named “South Esk 2” and “Glenrothes 2,” and there is a further RMI mosaic, named “Moray Firth.” The latter is especially looking at the capping material of the butte – and the contact to the underlying rocks. All those images will serve to investigate the sedimentary features of the area and understand if wind or wate rformed these rocks. With the opportunity to image the buttes from three dimensions, there is great opportunity to get behind all the details.

Mastcam is joining the imaging campaign, with one single frame stereo image to join previous mosaics, and two mosaics: a 9x1 of the target “Craiglaw Point,” which is to document the sedimentary structures at this location. Mastcam is also joining the RMI sedimentology campaign with a 3x1 of the target “Morav Firth.” Of course, there are also images to document the ChemCam activities.

ChemCam is busy documenting the chemistry in the area of the Hutton drill hole as there is a lot of diversity in the rocks. The targets in this plan will therefore investigate three targets: “Glen Rosa,” “Glen Quaich” and “Glen Shira.” Of course, DAN and REMS are also busy doing their regular measurements. A lot to do, even for a three-sol plan!

To conclude the blog with the phrase the science planers used over and over again today, while working hard (and over-time!) to optimize every observation to minimize the use of power: “We are squeezing every last electron out of this today.”

February 19, 2020

Sols 2680-2682: Can You Smell What Sam Is Cooking?

Written by Michelle Minitti, Planetary Geologist at Framework
This image was taken by Left Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 2674.

This image was taken by Left Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 2674 (2020-02-13 15:48:56 UTC). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

​Curiosity kicked off her fifth Mars Year with a successful and busy weekend, running both CheMin and SAM to increase our knowledge of the mineralogy, chemistry and isotopic composition of the “Hutton” drill sample. Based on the weekend’s results, SAM elected to analyze a second batch of Hutton to gain insight into its volatile and organic contents. Preparing for the SAM analysis and the analysis itself will take up the bulk of the power in our three sol plan, but we still had enough power left for additional science observations both near and far from the rover.

ChemCam will fire up its laser to acquire chemistry across a vein and the bedrock adjacent to it ("Salt Pan Bay”) and from the interior wall of the “Hutton” drill hole. ChemCam will also use the RMI to acquire a ten image mosaic along the top of "Western Butte” (here dubbed “South Esk”) and a five image mosaic across a more distant butte (“Glenrothes”). Mastcam will cover the near- and mid-field with two large stereo mosaics that connect to the extensive and more distant mosaics we have of the “Glen Torridon” terrain we have been exploring over the last year. The stereo data help us visualize the structural relationships between the many rock types around the rover.

Navcam will scan the skies near midday on Sol 2680 for dust devils, and then Navcam and Mastcam will acquire images and movies later in the afternoon on Sol 2681 to assess the dust load in the atmosphere and look for clouds. REMS and RAD will keep tabs on the weather and radiation within Gale.

February 14, 2020

Sols 2676-2679: 4 Sols of Love for Curiosity!

Written by Dawn Sumner, Planetary Geologist at University of California Davis
A cheerful patch of heart-shaped sunlight reminds us of how we love learning about Mars!

A cheerful patch of heart-shaped sunlight reminds us of how we love learning about Mars! Curiosity took this image using its Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), located on the turret at the end of the rover's robotic arm, on December 16, 2012 (Sol 129). Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS. Download image ›

Drilling on Mars!
It's so super cool
SAM bakes up our sample
Using many a joule

The team is currently analyzing our most recent drill powder from "Hutton." Our first analysis of its mineralogy with CheMin was successful, and the SAM team decided to proceed with an EGA analysis. This analysis consists of heating the sample powder in an oven and sending the gases that are released into the mass spectrometer. These gases include things like water vapor, carbon dioxide, molecular oxygen, sulfur compounds, and more. Their concentrations and when they arrive in the mass spectrometer give us lots of interesting information about the composition of the sample.

Today, the team put together a 4 sol activity plan that covers the long holiday weekend. We start by delivering part of our Hutton sample powder to the SAM instrument, which will heat it and analyze it overnight. The second sol consists of monitoring our environment and recharging the batteries since heating the sample takes a lot of energy. On the third sol, CheMin takes its turn, performing another analysis to better understand the mineralogy of the Hutton sample. In the early morning of the fourth sol, we are characterizing the atmosphere with a suite of images and movies, and we are adding to a very large mosaic of the slopes around Curiosity. Later on the fourth sol, ChemCam will image "Craigielaw Point," which is near the top of the slope to the south. ChemCam will shoot its laser at the bedrock at "Troup Head," which is close to the Hutton drill site, to analyze its chemistry.

It was great to spend the morning of Valentine's day with the rover I love the most!

February 12, 2020

Sols 2673-2675: Ongoing Analyses at Hutton

Written by Lauren Edgar, Planetary Geologist at USGS Astrogeology Science Center
This image was taken by Mast Camera (Mastcam) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 2668.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS Download image ›

Curiosity is parked at the “Hutton” drill site, just below the contact with the overlying Greenheugh pediment. After a successful drill last week, the rover has been focused on ongoing analyses of the drill sample and further characterization of this site. Yesterday’s activities focused on the drop off of sample to CheMin and CheMin analysis, and today’s plan includes recharge, remote sensing, and SAM preconditioning to prepare for delivery of a portion of the drilled sample to SAM in the weekend plan.

Today we planned three sols because there is no uplink tomorrow. The plan kicks off with a recharge sol and overnight SAM atmospheric observation. The second sol includes a number of ChemCam observations to assess the chemistry of an interesting vein at “Dunbartonshire,” and float rocks that might be from the overlying pediment-capping unit. We also planned an RMI mosaic of “Southern Uplands” to document sedimentary structures in a nearby cliff face. The environmental monitoring theme group planned a Navcam observation to search for dust devils and a Mastcam tau observation to measure the optical depth of the atmosphere at sunset. Overnight, SAM will carry out preconditioning to prepare for sample delivery in the weekend plan. The third sol includes additional ChemCam observations to characterize a vein and bedrock, and associated Mastcam documentation. As the SOWG Chair today it was a fun and straightforward plan – I think the team is eager to find out the first results from CheMin and deliver some sample to SAM!

February 11, 2020

Sol 2672: Continuing to Explore Hutton

Written by Mariah Baker, Planetary Geologist at Center for Earth & Planetary Studies, Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum
This image was taken by Left Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 2665.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech Download image ›

The Curiosity rover is currently located at Hutton, where she successfully completed her 24th drill last week. Once it became clear that the drilling had performed as expected, we began to settle in for our stay here at Hutton; we have been here for 8 sols and we will be here for many more. Today marked “drill sol 4a,” which is characterized by a sample dropoff to CheMin and the first of two CheMin analyses. As we continue working our way slowly through the standard set of activities that accompany every drill campaign, we will also be taking advantage of this stop as an opportunity to collect additional data on targets of interest in the area.

The plan for sol 2672 contained one science block, which the team filled with various remote science activities that will help characterize the drilled material and surrounding surface. Three ChemCam active observations were included in the plan: two will target drill hole material and one will target a nearby vein named “Lanarkshire” (center of the Navcam image above). Additional ChemCam passive measurements will be made on a broken rock named “Dumfriesshire.” Mastcam documentation images were taken of all ChemCam targets; the drill hole documentation image can also be used to search for motion in drill tailings caused by wind. A Navcam zenith movie was the sole atmospheric observation included in the scheduled science block, but the DAN and REMS instruments will also monitor environmental conditions over a large portion of the day. The team is expecting the arrival of much more data over the coming sols as we continue to study the drilled material and explore our workspace!

February 10, 2020

Sols 2669-2671 Successful Drill at Hutton!

Written by Rachel Kronyak, Planetary Geologist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Sols 2669-2671 Successful Drill at Hutton!

We were greeted this morning with images of our newest (and 24th!) drill hole on the surface of Mars! The Front Hazcam image above shows the drill in action at target “Hutton.” As a fitting celebration, a box of donut holes was passed around the ops rooms at JPL.

Our weekend plan of activities centers around characterizing our drilled sample as well as conducting additional scientific observations. In the Friday (Sol 2669) plan, Curiosity will first conduct a series of “portioning characterization” experiments. This is to help us understand how much rock powder the drill collected and to ensure that we’re able to deliver samples of adequate size to our SAM and CheMin instruments. First, a portion will be delivered to the workspace and we’ll take before and after Mastcam images for documentation. We’ll repeat this process two more times, delivering additional portions to the SAM inlet cover and taking corresponding Mastcam images. After portioning characterization, Curiosity will use the ChemCam RMI to take images of the Hutton drill hole.

On Saturday (Sol 2670) morning, we will use Mastcam and ChemCam to collect remote science data on the drill hole and our nearby surroundings. With ChemCam, we’ll perform a passive (no laser) observation on the Hutton drill tailings. Next we’ll use the ChemCam laser to probe the targets “Roxburghshire,” a dark gray vein, and “Shettleston,” a float rock hypothesized to come from the nearby Greenheugh pediment caprock. We will also perform several environmental observations including a tau and crater rim extinction with Mastcam, and with Navcam, a sunrise movie, sky survey, and zenith movie.

On Sunday (2671), we’ll take a few Mastcam mosaics including a stereo mosaic of the nearby Western butte and Greenheugh pediment areas as well a large 360° mosaic. In the evening, we’ll wrap up our weekend plan with a long APXS observation of argon in the atmosphere.

February 6, 2020

Sols 2667-2668: GO for Drill at Hutton

Written by Catherine O'Connell-Cooper, Planetary Geologist at University of New Brunswick
MAHLI close up of the Hutton drill target.

MAHLI close up of the Hutton drill target. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

We are parked at the "Hutton" drill site, our next drill site on Mars. Over the past couple of sols, we have focused on assessing the suitability of the bedrock here as a drill target. APXS and ChemCam investigated the chemical composition to make sure that it falls within our desired compositional range. The engineers and rover planners at JPL assessed physical parameters and properties (for example looking at rock coherency, presence of veins, homogeneity of the surface). As the target was found to be a good candidate, drilling is a GO, so today marks the beginning of the drill activity, with drilling planned for the second sol of this two-sol plan.

During the first sol of the plan, MAHLI will take several images of the “discard site,” where our drilled sample will be dumped once CheMin and SAM have finished analyzing the sample. Drilling takes a lot of power, so other science activities were necessarily curtailed. The geology theme group (GEO) squeezed in two ChemCam LIBS targets “Tarbat Ness” (bedrock) and “Creag na Bruaich” (a float rock). The environmental theme group (ENV) added a pair of Mastcam images looking at dust and opacity, a Navcam dust devil movie, and some standard REMS and DAN environmental monitoring activities.

Following a very long overnight nap to conserve energy, drilling is scheduled to take place on the afternoon of the second sol. Once drilling has completed, Mastcam will image the new drill hole (planning for success!) the “tailings” generated by the percussion drill method, and the drill bit used to ensure it is in good condition.

We will be eagerly awaiting the first images down after drilling, to see if we have the 24th successful drill hole on Mars!

February 5, 2020

Sol 2666: Did the Rover Do That?

Written by Ashley Stroupe, Mission Operations Engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Sol 2666: Did the Rover Do That?

​After seeing our initial contact science results and our successful pre-load test, the plan is to continue preparing to drill and get a sample from the Hutton target. While we finalize our analysis from yesterday’s activities, we are continuing to do more contact science on this fascinating workspace, including looking at “Traprain Law,” a place where our wheel scuffed the rock on an earlier drive (seen as the bright white streak in the center of the image). We also planned contact science on two other spots – “Moorfoot Hills” (a possible hollow nodule) and “Liberton Brae” (bedrock). As a rover planner, the tall nature of these two targets, which are very close together, relative to the local surface made for an interesting challenge to determine how to put the APXS down safety on each of these spots. We ended up touching between the two, to ensure we safely find the highest point, and then offset to get the desired APXS and MAHLI locations.

In conjunction with the contact science, we did a lot of targeted remote sensing science as well, including Mastcam and ChemCam imaging of Hutton and a nearby vein. We also have some of our standard environmental observations – a Mastcam full tau and crater rim extinction.

Alas, however, this is the last day on MSL and at JPL for our Deputy Project Scientist, Joy Crisp. We wish her well in her retirement – Mars won’t be the same without her.