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 2546-2547: Brrrr - Is It Frosty?

Written by Dawn Sumner, Planetary Geologist at University of California Davis
Sols 2546-2547: 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: SAM Clean-Up and a Potpourri of Remote Sensing and Environmental Observations

Written by Roger Wiens, Geochemist at Los Alamos National Laboratory
Sol 2545: 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 2543: Dumping Dirt on its Back

Written by Roger Wiens, Geochemist at Los Alamos National Laboratory
Sol 2543: Dumping Dirt on its Back

Curiosity has been at this same location for all of August and September, which included a number of days of waiting for Mars to pass behind the Sun (“conjunction”), drilling two holes, and processing the samples. This image shows nine laser pits forming a line down the “Glen Etive 2” drill hole. Shock waves from the laser impact at the lowest point cleared debris that had settled at the bottom of the hole to allow analysis of the hole wall at that depth. Subsequent to this vertical raster, and after this image was taken, ChemCam also performed a rectangular 5x2 grid pattern in the hole.

The team is planning uplink commands for two sols on Mars. In the first sol a sample will be dropped into CheMin’s inlet on the deck of the rover, and the instrument will start its analysis. In my report to my team I show a picture of an elephant using its trunk to dump dirt on its back. That’s a far cry from what Curiosity is doing, but I like to find human or animal similarities to Curiosity. Mastcam will provide documentation of the drop-off and will also take an image of the SAM inlet to follow up from the weekend activities. On the second sol, ChemCam will analyze targets “Buldoo” and “Broo Gill,” and will take RMI images of eolian targets “Culbin Sands 1” and “Culbin Sands 2.” Mastcam will do a crater rim extinction and a Sun tau image, and will document the ChemCam targets. Navcam will do a dust devil movie and survey. DAN, REMS, and RAD will take data in the background.

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!

September 25, 2019

Sols 2538-2539: An Intermission Filled with Remote Sensing

Written by Kristen Bennett, Planetary Geologist at USGS Astrogeology Science Center
Sols 2538-2539: An Intermission Filled with Remote Sensing

Today started off with the news that yestersol’s plan did not fully complete. There was an issue in the set of planned SAM activities that resulted in those activities not completing. While we diagnose the issue, we are taking a break from drill activities and filling the plan with lots of remote science.

Part of the plan will include retaking observations that did not complete on sol 2537. This includes ChemCam LIBS observations of “Peeblesshire,” “Perthshire,” and the offset from the “Glen Etive 1” dump pile. Peeblesshire and Perthshire are both pebbles near the drill site.

Additionally, the plan includes a ChemCam LIBS observation and a corresponding Mastcam image of “Stove,” which is a target located between the two drill locations. There will also be a Mastcam mosaic of Mt. Sharp that will be taken late in the day to test what the best time of day is for these observations. “Stony Side” is a ChemCam RMI mosaic that is pointed back towards Vera Rubin ridge to capture an outcrop that is along the edge of the ridge.

There will also be a dust devil movie, a supra-horizon movie for cloud monitoring, a line-of-sight observation, and a cloud altitude observation. Several Mastcam observations are included to estimate the amount of dust in the atmosphere: a tau observation and a crater rim extinction observation. There will also be a phase function sky survey, which is used to measure the angular scattering of light by clouds. Observations such as this one help us to constrain the shape of the ice crystals in the clouds.

Finally, today’s plan includes ChemCam RMI sky flats. This is a routine observation to check for dust on the ChemCam optical window.

Hopefully this will be a brief intermission and we will be back to drill analysis activities in the weekend plan!

September 24, 2019

Sols 2536-2537: SAM Wet Chemistry Experiment

Written by Melissa Rice, Planetary Geologist at Western Washington University
Sols 2536-2537: SAM Wet Chemistry Experiment

Searching for organic molecules in rocks on Mars is no easy task. Curiosity’s Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument is designed to analyze the chemical composition of gases, which it creates by slowly heating rock samples in an oven. The volatile gases that are driven off the heated rock sample get sent to SAM’s gas chromatograph and mass spectrometer (GCMS), which can identify the different gaseous compounds. However, organic molecules are tough to detect with this technique, because instead of transforming straight into gases when heated, they can decompose into simpler molecules.

But if organic molecules are “derivatized” before they’re heated – meaning that they react with other chemicals first in order to become more volatile – then the compounds are more likely to enter the GCMS without breaking down, and SAM has a better chance of detecting them. This derivatization process uses solvents of chemicals, so we call it a “wet chemistry” experiment. Curiosity only has nine cups containing these solvents, so we are careful to save our wet chemistry experiments for only the most interesting rock samples.

The “Glen Etive” site, which we have been studying for the past month, is enticing enough for this special experiment! Last week, to prepare for the experiment, Curiosity dropped the “Glen Etive 2” drill sample into the SAM inlet on the rover’s deck on Sol 2531, and took a picture of the inlet afterwards with Mastcam (shown above). Today’s plan for Curiosity includes performing the SAM wet chemistry experiment on the “Glen Etive 2” drill sample on Sol 2536.

Afterwards, Curiosity will spend most of the day on Sol 2537 recharging from the energy-intensive SAM activities, with a small number of additional science observations (including ChemCam observations of the “Glen Etive 1” sample dump pile and pebble targets “Peeblesshire” and “Perthshire,” and a Navcam movie to watch for clouds).

September 20, 2019

Sols 2533-2535: SAM's Starring Role!

Written by Catherine O'Connell, Planetary Geologist at University of New Brunswick
Sols 2533-2535: SAM's Starring Role!

Mastcam image, showing both Glen Etive drill holes, surrounded by "tailings" produced by the drilling process

Planning for this past week has centered on analyzing the high potassium drill sample, Glen Etive 2, using the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument. Portions of the drilled sample were delivered to SAM in Wednesday's plan, and an evolved gas analysis (EGA) conducted. This involved heating the sample to very high temperatures and measuring the gases that bake out of the sample with each temperature increment. Following the successful completion of the EGA, SAM will uplink a sequence in today's plan to clean the SAM Gas Chromatograph (GC) Columns, before some sample is transferred internally for a special wet chemistry experiment in next week's plan. The Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instrument will also do some preparation work in this plan, ahead of a planned sample drop-off to CheMin at the end of next week.

Although we wanted to dedicate most of Curiosity's resources to the continuing Glen Etive analysis, the Geology theme group (GEO) managed to fit in some geology observations. ChemCam will analyze two targets, investigating soil and pebbles at "Kilpatrick" and refining bedrock composition at "Glen Lyon" (previously shot on sol 2481.)

In addition to imaging the ChemCam targets to support geological interpretation, Mastcam will revisit the sol 2491 "change detection" target "Dundee." This target contains both sand and bedrock, making it easier to track small-scale changes, such as sand moving over bedrock. Although change detection studies track small particle movements, they are of immense use, helping us understand the larger picture, such as sand dune movement and changing wind regimes.

The Environmental Theme Group (ENV) will monitor large-scale surface changes, such as those due to strong winds and atmospheric vortices (dust devils), and look at broader environmental conditions (clouds, atmospheric dust) in Gale and beyond.

I was the Strategic Planner for APXS this week. Normally this is a busy role, helping to choose targets which will give us the most scientific return, but as movement of the rover arm (required to place APXS next to a sample) is not allowed whilst SAM is actively investigating a sample, it has been a quiet week for APXS. However, it is exciting to see SAM have a starring role this week, and we are eagerly anticipating the results from SAM and CheMin over the next few weeks!

September 19, 2019

Sol 2531 - 2532: Three Portions to Inlet 1 and Straight on till SAM

Written by Abigail Fraeman, Planetary Geologist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Sol 2531 - 2532: Three Portions to Inlet 1 and Straight on till SAM

Overnight image of the drill hole

In Monday's plan, we did portion drop tests of our "Glen Etive 2" drill sample, and this morning we were greeted with nice images of the sample piles. Our successful test means we are ready to deliver the Glen Etive 2 sample to Curiosity's analytical instruments for real today! Usually we send drill samples to CheMin for analysis first, but we've decided to do things backwards this time. For this drill, we want to deliver to SAM first to make sure we have enough sample available for both a standard SAM experiment and a special wet chemistry experiment. We feel pretty good about doing a SAM delivery first because we already have CheMin analyses on the nearby "Glen Etive 1" drilled sample, and we think it's likely Glen Etive 2 will be made of similar materials.

The star of today's plan is a triple portion dropoff to SAM on the first sol and an evolved gas analysis of that sample that will run overnight between the first and second sol. We have one hour available for remote sensing on the second sol of the plan. During that hour, we will take a ChemCam 1x10 observation along the wall of the Glen Etive 2 drill hole (pictured) and an associated Mastcam image. We will also take a multispectral image of a target named "Brawl," which is an area of rocks that were disturbed by the rover's wheels. We'll complement these geological measurements with observations of the environment, including a Mastcam tau (atmospheric dustiness) measurement, crater rim extinction movie, dust devil search, and overnight APXS integration to measure the argon levels of the atmosphere.