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!

October 4, 2019

Sols 2547-2548: Brrrr - Is It Frosty?

Written by Dawn Sumner, Planetary Geologist at University of California Davis
Sols 2547-2548: Brrrr - Is It Frosty?

Communicating with Curiosity requires creating a plan and transmitting it through various networks, including the Deep Space Network. Sometimes, one of these networks is down, and our plan does not get to the rover. That happened with Wednesday's plan, unfortunately. This morning, we had to respond to the loss of all the activities, deciding which to leave undone and which to replan. It turns out that it wasn't too hard to merge the lost plan and our intended weekend plan - if we postponed emptying the sample out of Curiosity's drill. I am the "Long Term Planner" for this set of sols, and I helped evaluate the implications of postponing this activity on what we can do next week. The team decided it was worth waiting to empty the sample, so we focused on merging two plans into one.

The activities from the Sol 2545 plan that we replanned include: the SAM gas chromatograph column clean-up; the ChemCam RMI of "Stony Side 2;" and ChemCam LIBS analyses of a wide white vein called “Bighouse” and a pebble called “Sliddery," with Mastcam documentation images.

The old environmental observations were not replanned because the team had some particularly interesting environmental observation opportunities in the weekend plan. Specifically, Curiosity is experiencing a cold season with relatively high humidity, so we planned a set of activities to see if frost is present on the soil right before sunrise. These include a ChemCam passive sky observation during the day to characterize atmospheric conditions, followed the next morning by pre-dawn ChemCam LIBS analyses of nearby soil to measure the hydrogen signature. The team chose the spot carefully and did a preliminary analysis to ensure good focus even in the dark. The image above shows the LIBS pits from the preliminary analyses. The pre-dawn LIBS observation will be followed by a Navcam atmospheric movie to look for clouds within 15 minutes of sunrise. A little later after sunrise, more atmospheric characterization is planned, including measuring the opacity of the atmosphere toward the horizon and upward, as well as taking various movies to understand winds and cloud formation. REMS will also provide wind data and air and ground temperatures. These suites of observations, planned in coordination, provide particularly valuable insights into atmospheric dynamics within Gale Crater.

October 2, 2019

Sol 2545-2546: SAM Clean-Up and a Potpourri of Remote Sensing and Environmental Observations

Written by Roger Wiens, Geochemist at Los Alamos National Laboratory
Sol 2545-2546: SAM Clean-Up and a Potpourri of Remote Sensing and Environmental Observations

Curiosity is continuing through its list of analysis details that take place after taking a drill sample. Today’s main activity is a SAM gas chromatograph column clean-up. Meanwhile, there is time to take environmental observations and more remote-sensing data. Today’s plan has quite a diversity of targets. Having analyzed enough of the nearby bedrock, our attention has turned to white vein materials. The accompanying RMI image shows Sol 2533 target “Glen Lyon,” which has some white material in the veins in the bedrock. ChemCam is targeting a wide white vein in today’s plan, called “Bighouse.” Another type of target is the pebbles. For those, ChemCam has a target at 2.3 meters called “Sliddery” using a 3x3 raster. ChemCam will add another row of RMI images (“Stony Side 2”) to a mosaic of a ridge located 180 meters from the rover. Mastcam will take documentation images of the ChemCam targets, and the Hazcams will take images of the near-rover field of view. The second day of the plan has several environmental measurements, including a Mastcam crater rim extinction and a Sun tau. Navcam will take a dust devil survey, a suprahorizon movie, a sky survey, and a zenith movie. There is also a DAN active observation, and RAD and REMS will take data.

September 30, 2019

Sol 2540-2542: Go, SAM, go!

Written by Susanne Schwenzer, Planetary Geologist at The Open University
Sol 2540-2542: Go, SAM, go!

Curiosity's late afternoon view: This image was taken by the Front Hazard Avoidance Camera (Right B (FHAZ_RIGHT_B)) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 2536 (2019-09-25 00:12:06 UTC). It shows the same view as the image in the sols 2538-2539 blog, just in a very different light!

Regular followers of this blog surely are on the edge of their seats to find out what is next with the SAM wet chemistry experiment... And it's a good news day! SAM is healthy and Curiosity will be spending most of her time of the coming three sols on the wet chemistry experiment activity. The planning team is very excited, and we keep all fingers crossed that we will find interesting data on Monday.

With SAM featuring prominently in the plan, power is limited for other activities. Thus, there are just three other observations in the three-sol weekend plan: Mastcam will continue their testing of Mt. Sharp imaging conditions on sol 2541 with an early morning mosaic of an area already imaged at different times of the day. Later in the same sol, ChemCam will carry out an investigation of the "Glen Lyon" target. If that sounds familiar to you, then you've got a very good memory. The target was investigated on sol 2533 when the rover was closer to the target, and is now re-measured to understand what influence - if any - distance to a target makes to the results. Finally, a ChemCam investigation of the "Glen Etive" drill hole wall will add more data to the first set of points, improving our statistics on this very important target. Mastcam will document the ChemCam activities, and then all that there is left to do is await the data from SAM!