December 4, 2019

Sol 2606-2607: If You See a Shadow, 6 More Months of Winter?

Written by Scott Guzewich, Atmospheric Scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
Sol 2606-2607:  If You See a Shadow, 6 More Months of Winter?

​Today’s science team faced some tough decisions during today’s planning. The geologists had to choose between investigating a plethora of interesting rock targets in the workspace, as seen in this Navcam image, or limit the observations at this location in favor of continuing to drive uphill to get a better view of Western Butte. After some discussion, it was decided to perform a “touch-and-go,” where we use the arm to study rock targets “Staxigoe” and “Totegan” with APXS and MAHLI, perform some additional remote sensing science with Mastcam and ChemCam, and then drive during the mid-afternoon.

I served as environmental science theme group lead today and in addition to our routine observations with REMS and DAN, we included Mastcam observations of atmospheric dust opacity (how much dust is in the atmosphere above us) and a Navcam movie to observe water ice clouds. This Navcam movie uses some clever geometry to calculate the height of clouds above the surface based on the shadows they cast on Mt. Sharp. We’re currently in the colder, cloudy winter season on Mars and will be for months to come!

December 3, 2019

Sols 2604-2605: A Touch-And-Go in the Post-Thanksgiving Plan

Written by Ashley Stroupe, Mission Operations Engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory
The shadow of Curiosity’s arm in the new workspace.

The shadow of Curiosity’s arm in the new workspace. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Today we had a 2-sol plan, though we are restricted, and so doing all our arm and drive activities on the first sol. As part of our standard cadence, we are doing MAHLI and APXS on a target named “Well Run” so that we can compare the compositions of the Western Butte with what we saw at the Central Butte. After stowing the arm, we have a science block with a survey of local rocks with ChemCam and Mastcam. Then we are driving to another laminated block about 15 m away with the intent to do contact science. After the drive, and before we do our post-drive arm unstow and post-drive imaging, we are doing a sun update to reset the rover’s attitude estimate, which keeps our ability to point back at Earth. On the second sol of the plan we are doing some AEGIS observations (can’t wait to see what AEGIS picks to look at!) and some standard environmental observations – dust devil survey and movie and a Navcam line-of-sight observation to look at the atmospheric opacity.

November 26, 2019

Sols 2600-2603: A Feast for the Eyes

Written by Melissa Rice, Planetary Geologist at Western Washington University
Sols 2600-2603: A Feast for the Eyes

Curiosity will be gorging on a feast of data this holiday weekend! We plan to acquire over 12,000 Mb of data in the four sols covering the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday, which could be a new record for the mission. The rover will be stuffed, and us scientists will be digesting the results for months to come.

The main dish is an enormous color image mosaic. To capture the full 360 degrees of terrain surrounding the rover, Curiosity will take 850 individual images with each of its Mastcam cameras. It will take roughly eight hours to capture all of those images, so to spread out the work over multiple sols, we have divided the full scene into four segments. We will capture each segment around local noon so that the lighting will be consistent, which will make it easier to stitch all of the individual pieces together into a seamless panoramic image. We included the first segment in the previous plan for sols 2597-2599, and this weekend we will capture the last three segments. The final product will be a sight to behold: a gigapixel stereo image of dramatic desert landscape, with buttes of crumbling sandstone in the foreground and Mt. Sharp towering in the distance.

Side dishes at Curiosity’s feast include Navcam images looking towards the horizon to search for dust devils, and close-up investigations of two rock targets using the MAHLI and APXS instruments: one named “Inverurie” with a rough texture, and another named “Latheron” with a smoother, layered texture. On sol 2602, Curiosity will drive closer to the base of Western Butte. Then for dessert, we will use the APXS instrument overnight to monitor the concentration of argon in Mars’ atmosphere. After such an overindulgence, on sol 2603 Curiosity will do the rover equivalent of laying comatose on the couch: a full sol of sitting still and monitoring the weather with the REMS instrument.

We have quite a lot to be thankful for this holiday weekend! November 26 marks the eight-year anniversary of Curiosity’s launch in 2011. After more than seven years of exploring Mars, our rover is still strong and healthy and the views just keep getting better.

November 25, 2019

Sols 2597-2599: A Bounty of Targets

Written by Michelle Minitti, Planetary Geologist at Framework
Sols 2597-2599: A Bounty of Targets

We arrived at our parking spot for the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday, and Mars gave us plenty to be grateful for in and around the workspace. Each bedrock slab in the workspace seems to have something different to offer, "Western Butte" looms just 25 meters off to rover left, and dark sand ripples lap up against the small rise we are perched on. It is an ideal spot at which to spend some quality time. We start off the plan by acquiring the first of part of a 360° panorama that we will accumulate in four parts over the Thanksgiving holiday. Normally, we collect our 360° mosaics with the wider field of view Mastcam left eye. This time, we will capture the 360° mosaic using the left eye and the narrower field of view Mastcam right eye. This will result in a ripe-for-zooming-in stereo mosaic that includes our recent focus of exploration, “Central Butte,” and the clay-bearing unit, "Vera Rubin Ridge," the "Greenheugh pediment," the distant Gale crater rim, and (looming above all) Mount Sharp.

Through the rest of this three sol plan, our focus falls slightly closer to the rover than the surrounding vista. We will brush the target “Everbay,” which has a polygonal fracture pattern, with the DRT and follow up with MAHLI imaging and an APXS analysis. MAHLI will also image the targets “Carlops” and “Inverurie,” bedrock targets with different textures than Everbay, to help plan more detailed investigation of these targets with MAHLI and APXS in the next plan. ChemCam will shoot Everbay, Inverurie, “Latheron” (yet another variety of bedrock texture!), and “Fidra,” whose vertical face (visible in the upper left corner of the above image) gives us a perfect cross section to look at. Rounding out the plan on Sol 2599, SAM will run a test of its tunable laser spectrometer.

The environment around and above the rocks gets attention in this plan, as well. We acquire regular REMS, RAD and DAN measurements, and images and movies of clouds and dust devils.

November 22, 2019

Sols 2594-2596: Heading West and Settling in for Thanksgiving

Written by Catherine O'Connell, Planetary Geologist at University of New Brunswick
Mid-drive image showing the sand patch “Stemster” behind the rubbly workspace that we ended up in for today’s plan.

Mid-drive image showing the sand patch “Stemster” behind the rubbly workspace that we ended up in for today’s plan. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

We are putting Central Butte behind us now, as we journey onwards to Western Butte, a nearby hill that appears to be similar to Central Butte. At Central Butte, we were spoiled for choice, with lots of rocky outcrops to investigate. Yesterday’s drive brought us to the type of workspace we have seen previously in Glen Torridon – lots and lots of small pebbles and sand.

We did still manage to find things to analyze. APXS will integrate on an area called “Flow Country” over the weekend, split into three distinct sections - sand, very small pebbles and a single larger pebble. This will allow us to compare the compositions, and to see how they relate to pebbly material encountered further back in Glen Torridon. MAHLI will complete the contact science on Flow Country, imaging all three parts of the target. ChemCam is investigating some larger fragments of rock “Nutberry Moss” and “Otterswick,” as well as two potential meteorite targets “Pladda Isle” and “Swona.”

As always, our plan is full of Mastcam imagery. In addition to documenting the ChemCam targets, Mastcam is imaging two sand patches “Stemster” (seen in the image above) and “Stonywynd,” and looking back towards Central Butte before we drive on sol 2595.

The Environmental theme group (ENV) planned a series of Mastcam and ECAM movies to look at environmental conditions, such as dust devils, clouds and dust overhead in the sky above the rover and towards the walls of Gale crater. REMS and DAN will continue their ongoing environmental monitoring.

Once the drive completes, we will stay in place until after the Thanksgiving holiday. Mastcam will image our new workspace and surrounding area so that we can do lots of contact science and a very special imaging project over the holiday period.

November 20, 2019

Sols 2592-2593: '...Till Birnam Forest Come to Dunsinane'

Written by Mark Salvatore, Planetary Geologist at University of Michigan
Sols 2592-2593: '...Till Birnam Forest Come to Dunsinane'

Because of several power-hungry activities, Curiosity's planned science activities needed to be rather thin for the next two sols. However, we were still able to plan some great science observations and get us ready for our next move through the clay-bearing Glen Torridon region. First, Curiosity will acquire a series of Mastcam images of the surrounding workspace to document the rock texture and composition along the western slope of Central Butte, a large topographic high that has been the target of exploration over the past week or so. These observations will include multispectral images of the most recent contact science target (named "Muckle Flugga," see image), two high-resolution mosaics (one of the terrain just off the front-right wheel and one of the edge of Central Butte), and imaging of a knobby rock unit in front of the rover. Then, Curiosity will perform a maneuver called "Full MAHLI Wheel Imaging," where we use the MAHLI instrument to image Curiosity's wheels to monitor damage over the course of its traverse. The following day, Curiosity will drive away from its current location and continue exploring the Glen Torridon Unit, followed by some post-drive imaging to aid with planning weekend science activities.

Two new target names in today's plan are "Birnam Wood" and "Dunsinane," which are both referred to in Shakespeare's famous tragedy Macbeth. Fortunately, Curiosity doesn't have to worry about battling royalty for control of the throne - Curiosity is already the Ruler of Gale crater!

November 20, 2019

Sol 2591: Characterizing Bedrock at Central Butte

Written by Lauren Edgar, Planetary Geologist at USGS Astrogeology Science Center
Sol 2591: Characterizing Bedrock at Central Butte

Curiosity is continuing her exploration of Central Butte, focusing on characterizing the lithology of ledge-forming rocks in this area. The Sol 2591 plan includes several ChemCam observations of “Ard Neakie” to assess a gray fractured zone, “Glen Doll” to characterize more typical bedrock adjacent to the fractured zone, and “Isle Ristol” to assess vertical changes in chemistry. The plan involves a lot of contact science as well, including APXS and a MAHLI full suite on “Glen Doll” and “Ard Neakie,” and a DRT, MAHLI full suite and overnight APXS on “Muckle Flugga” to characterize the bedrock at this location. The Geology theme group also planned a Mastcam mosaic of “Muckle Flugga” and documentation of the ChemCam targets. The plan also includes typical DAN and REMS observations and a Navcam atmospheric movie. I’m looking forward to seeing the results from all of the great contact science!

November 19, 2019

Sol 2590: Making a U-Turn

Written by Fred Calef, Planetary Geologist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory
A view of possible pebble-forming rocks in front of the rover. A rock designated as "Quarff" is in the middle-left of the image.

A view of possible pebble-forming rocks in front of the rover. A rock designated as "Quarff" is in the middle-left of the image. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

As we continue the Central Butte campaign, the rover is traversing along an ever narrowing ledge. To continue forward, we need to take a few steps back and make a U-turn around to a less steep section to proceed. This ledge-forming material itself is an interesting pitted mudstone outcrop that we'd like to investigate. This sol, we did a touch-and-go maneuver taking APXS, ChemCam, MAHLI, and Mastcam measurements on a block called "Nedd," which may be pebble forming and contributing to the surface texture we see from orbit and on the ground. In addition, we'll get some Mastcam imaging on "Quarff," where we think there's some dipping strata telling us how these rocks were laid down in the past. Also, we'll acquire Mastcam of "Banffshire," our next drive location. We wrap up the drive with some observations looking for dust devils and clouds for understanding wind direction. Last, but not least, a MARDI image will be taken to document the smaller rocks ("clasts") that make up the surface.

November 15, 2019

Sols 2587-2589: Curiosity De-Butte

Written by Roger Wiens, Geochemist at Los Alamos National Laboratory
Sols 2587-2589: Curiosity De-Butte

After the “butte-iful” location and view of sols 2585-2586, Curiosity descended back down from its perch on “Central butte” and skirted its steep side. The rover now has another butte in view—“Western butte”—in the accompanying image. Little by little, Curiosity is climbing higher, toward the edge of “Greenheugh pediment.”

The drive was 40 meters toward the southwest. At the new location, Curiosity will observe two targets, “Blawhorn” and “Gorgie,” with Mastcam, ChemCam, MAHLI, and APXS. Mastcam will also take images of “Yella Moor,” “Dalchork,” “Glen Lui,” and “Craigmillar,” as well as making a tau measurement and a crater rim extinction observation. MAHLI will take an image of the REMS UV sensor. Navcam will take dust-devil movies, suprahorizon movies, and a 360 sky survey. REMS, RAD, and DAN will also take data.

On the final day of the weekend plan, Curiosity will advance 20 meters, after which it will take Navcam images of its new surroundings. The rover will then compute a ChemCam target, using the AEGIS software, which will then direct the instrument to shoot a 3x3 raster on it. Finally, Mastcam will take a sunset tau observation, and the rover will radio home with a large bundle of new data.

November 14, 2019

Sols 2585-2586: What a Butte!

Written by Claire Newman, Atmospheric Scientist at Aeolis Research
Sols 2585-2586: What a Butte!

Curiosity is again at the “Hunda” facies, high up on Central Butte (note that this is pronounced “beaut” not “butt,” unless one wishes to cause much hilarity). At this location, we’re finding a lot of decimeter-scale laminations - sequences of fine layers - near to and underneath the rover. In these layers, target “Kirkcudbrightshire” was chosen as the location for first ChemCam then APXS analysis, the idea being that ChemCam LIBS would remove any dust covering the target before the APXS contact science overnight. A second APXS target “Foggy Moss” was chosen to sample the float rock found here, which was already analyzed using ChemCam in a prior sol. Here ‘float’ refers to the piece of rock having been transported from its original outcrop, and this one might represent the cap rock of the entire butte. More ChemCam LIBS analyses were planned on targets “Kincardineshire,” which may sample the edge of the rock ledge, “Grogsport,” another bedrock target higher in the section (to test how chemistry, especially sulfate content, changes with position), and “Hog Burn,” another float rock which might also represent the capping unit and can be compared with Foggy Moss. Mastcam mosaics and ChemCam documentation images were used to place all of these measurements in context, and the geology side of the plan finished with Mastcam stereo of layers in the outcrop (“Bonny Braes”), as well as a Mastcam context mosaic of additional outcrop, allowing the various mosaics from this location to be linked together (“Bonnie View”). We also planned MAHLI images of Kirkcudbrightshire and Foggy Moss, and a MAHLI ‘dog’s eye’ mosaic of target “Sourhope”; the latter means that the arm will be positioned so MAHLI looks sideways (rather than down) at the target, to get a better view of the laminations within the rocks.

On the environmental side of the plan, we included the usual REMS monitoring of atmospheric and surface temperature, surface pressure, humidity, and UV radiation, plus DAN passive and active monitoring of the subsurface composition, and the ongoing continuous RAD monitoring of energetic particle radiation. We’re in the cloudy season right now, so we added in a Navcam Cloud Altitude Observation which uses observations of clouds and their shadows, plus geometry, to work out cloud heights. This is a valuable piece of information for inferring the vertical structure of the crater’s atmosphere, as cloud height is related to both water abundance and the thermal profile. We also added a Navcam Dust Devil Survey at about 4:20pm local true solar time. This is a few hours later than we expect most dust devils to occur, especially in winter, based on both theory and past observations. However, we’ve observed dust devils this late in the day in other seasons, and it’s important to repeat these surveys at a range of times in every season each year, rather than assuming nothing will change as we move up the slope! Finally, we measured the amount of dust above us and the visibility across the crater at two times of sol using Mastcam, and measured the across-crater visibility at one time of sol with Navcam also.