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.

November 11, 2019

Sols 2583-2584: Trying Not to Slip

Written by Scott Guzewich, Atmospheric Scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
Sols 2583-2584: Trying Not to Slip

Over the weekend, Curiosity drove further uphill on Central Butte to examine the complex layering that seems to be present. Today we saw this compelling workspace image from Navcam and quickly decided this location was worth a few days of investigation. However, Curiosity is on a rather steep slope and tilted somewhat, which prevented us from being able to use the dust removal tool in this plan. We’ll use MAHLI and APXS on “Sourhope,” the vertically-oriented rockface in the upper middle portion of this image just below the dark-colored knob. We’ll also use ChemCam on “Sourhope” in addition to “Foggy Moss” and “Hoxa.” The goal is to see if some of the material at the top of the butte (which we can’t directly reach), might have fallen down to this location where we can sample it. On the second sol of today’s plan we’ll take Mastcam images of these targets in addition to the top of the butte, and then search for dust devils and water ice clouds with Navcam.

November 9, 2019

Sols 2581-2582: It's Soliday Time Again!

Written by Abigail Fraeman, Planetary Geologist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Sols 2581-2582: It's Soliday Time Again!

Happy soliday weekend! Those who are regular readers of the blog will recall that every few weeks the rover planners here on Earth celebrate a soliday. The term soliday is a play on the words sol and holiday, and describes the times when our Earth-based rover operations team plans only one Mars day to cover two Earth days. We do this help our Earth-based time zones sync up with Curiosity’s Mars-based time zones.

Even though this weekend’s soliday plan is only two sols instead of the usual three we plan for the weekends, it’s still chock full of science. Curiosity’s been exploring some truly outstanding rock outcrops recently! The big activities in the first sol of the plan include a DRT with MAHLI and APXS of a target named “Conachair,” as well as a MAHLI dog’s eye mosaic of a target named “Black Gutter.” In addition to those contact science targets, Curiosity will also collect some remote sensing observations including ChemCam and Mastcam observations on Black Gutter, “Mamores,” and “Widewall,” as well as some additional Mastcam observations on a target named “Kinraddie.”

Curiosity will wake up in the pre-dawn hours on the morning of the second sol of the plan and use ChemCam to see if any frost accumulated on the ground overnight. Science observations will resume in the middle of the day when Curiosity will take Mastcam multispectral observations of the Conachair DRT target and “Slangpos crater,” a small impact crater superposed on the rim of Gale crater. Curiosity will also capture some Navcam and Mastcam images that are designed to monitor the environment around Curiosity. These observations include a Mastcam tau, crater rim extinction observation, Mastcam sky column, and Navcam search for dust devils. Curiosity will then drive about six meters uphill to reach the next outcrop the science team wants to study.

November 7, 2019

Sols 2579 - 2580: Touch and Go? No!

Written by Lucy Thompson, Planetary Geologist at University of New Brunswick
Front Hazcam image of the view out the front window with our current workspace in the foreground.

Front Hazcam image of the view out the front window with our current workspace in the foreground, and the top of the Central Butte in the background. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Our nominal plan was for a Touch and Go, which normally results in us first using the arm to place APXS and MAHLI on a target to assess the chemistry and texture, followed by typical remote science (imaging and ChemCam chemistry) before driving away. The previous drive brought us to an interesting workspace at the base of an area we are calling the “Central Butte.” We are examining the relationship between different layers of rocks within the butte and how they compare to the other rocks we have encountered within the Glen Torridon area. Early during planning, we first assessed where we would like to drive for our weekend plan. We were hoping to drive a little higher up the butte in order to continue investigating the current layer we are in, as well as to be able to access the overlying rock layers. However, after a careful assessment of the potential drive by the rover planners, we decided to pull the drive from the plan. Hence it turned into a Touch and Stay plan! There are plenty of areas of interest to keep us busy this weekend though.

We decided to switch the order of our remote science and contact science, such that ChemCam will analyze a rock target, “Gleneagles,” prior to investigation by MAHLI and APXS of the same target later in the plan. The ChemCam LIBS typically blasts away the surface dust, and analyzes the composition of the rock. This dust clearing will allow us to have a less dusty surface to analyze with MAHLI and APXS. Two Mastcam mosaics will capture the Gleneagles target and surrounding area, as well as another area “Kinraddie,” to document sedimentary structures and textures, which might help us infer a depositional setting for these rocks. We will also acquire a Mastcam 360° mosaic of this area.

On the second sol of this two-sol plan, ChemCam will use AEGIS to investigate the composition of another target in the workspace. We will acquire Mastcam crater extinction and full tau imaging pointed towards the sun, and Navcam imaging to look for dust and aerosols in the atmosphere, as well as dust devils. Standard REMS, DAN and RAD activities are also planned.

We are looking forward to a busy weekend on Mars, taking more compositional, structural and textural measurements at this stunning outcrop.

November 5, 2019

Sols 2577-2578: En Route Around Central Butte

Written by Mariah Baker, Planetary Geologist at Johns Hopkins University
Sols 2577-2578: En Route Around Central Butte

Today, the team continued our exploration of Central Butte with a two-sol “touch-and-go” plan, which means that the rover will have one sol of contact science at this stop before she continues on her drive around the base of the butte. Early on in planning, there was some discussion about the drive route; ultimately, the team decided to head south to get a closer view of some of the exposed layering within the butte. The northern side of Central Butte can be seen in the Navcam image above.

Today’s plan included time for a short science block before the drive, which the team filled with a ChemCam RMI mosaic of target “Crimond” and a Mastcam mosaic that will provide increased coverage of our drive direction. MAHLI and APXS measurements were also planned for the bedrock target “Pobie Bank,” comprising the “touch” part of this plan. After this science block, the rover will “go” to her next stop, which will bring us a little further up the base of the butte. Standard post-drive imaging using Navcam, Mastcam, and MARDI will round out the first sol and will provide a better look at Wednesday’s workspace. The second sol in the plan contains one untargeted science block, which will include a ChemCam passive measurement, a ChemCam AEGIS observation, and a Mastcam stereo mosaic of the top of the butte. The team also planned a set of environmental observations including REMS and DAN measurements, as well as Mastcam images of the crater rim, a Mastcam sky survey, a Navcam line-of-sight observation, and a Navcam supra horizon movie. This data will help give us a head start on our next plan so that we can use our time to examine Central Butte more closely. In order to accomplish all of our science goals at this location, the rover will make a couple more stops along the side of the butte before continuing along the long-term strategic route.

November 1, 2019

Sols 2574-2576: Characterizing Central Butte

Written by Kristen Bennett, Planetary Geologist at USGS Astrogeology Science Center
Sols 2574-2576: Characterizing Central Butte

In today’s plan, Curiosity is still investigating Central Butte. The rover is a little further up the side of the butte, and the goal is to characterize the different units that we can observe. The Navcam image displayed above shows the workspace (the area right in front of the rover that the arm can reach) for our weekend plan.

During the weekend plan, there is plenty of contact science. “Upperhill” will be targeted with both MAHLI and APXS after the DRT removes dust from the surface. “Stonehive” is an additional MAHLI and APXS target in the plan. Finally, “Kenmore” is a MAHLI-only target that will look at the side of a block to help us investigate sedimentary structures in this area.

ChemCam has four targets in the weekend plan including Stonehive, which is also a contact science target. ChemCam will also target “Ericht,” “Biggar,” and “Reay” to document any variations present in the workspace. Mastcam will take documentation images of all the ChemCam targets. Mastcam will also take a multispectral observation of Upperhill. This observation will take advantage of the DRT target to obtain multispectral data of a dust-cleared area. Additionally, Mastcam will take several mosaics of the butte. “Hunda” is an expansion of a previous mosaic with the same name. Interesting sedimentary structures were identified in the original mosaic, so the expanded mosaic will help us understand the extent of these sedimentary structures. “Carstairs” is a mosaic that is looking along the side of the butte in order to look at the outcropping laminations from a different angle. The final mosaic will be of the top of Central Butte to capture an area that we will not be able to drive up to.

After all of these observations, Curiosity will start driving around the butte to look at it from the other side. We expect to continue having amazing views of Central Butte at our next stop!

October 31, 2019

Sol 2572-2573: Central Butte Rocks

Written by Fred Calef, Planetary Geologist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory
A view towards "Central" butte that emphasizes the many layers ahead of us.

A view towards "Central" butte that emphasizes the many layers ahead of us. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity made an almost 10 m drive to approach a "butte"iful outcrop at the base of "Central" butte, an erosional remnant of the pediment in front of us. With a key geologic contact between two different layers a few meters ahead, we're planning a "touch-n-go" on sol 2572 with two APXS measurements, ChemCam, MAHLI, and Mastcam on rock "Glen Mark," an additional ChemCam on "Fourpenny", a Mastcam of nearby "Pittodrie" looking for nodules in the rock, and a Mastcam mosaic of layered outcrop "Hunda" in front of us which is composed of fine layered bedding. We're also firing up CheMin for an empty cell analysis to get ready for the next drill location. On sol 2773, the rover will go through its nominal list of untargeted ChemCam acquisitions, a dust-devil survey, and Mastcam line-of-sight extinction to measure dust in the atmosphere.

October 29, 2019

Sols 2570-2571: Pit Stop on the Way to Central Butte

Written by Catherine O'Connell, Planetary Geologist at University of New Brunswick
Front Hazard Camera image shows our current workspace, with Central Butte in the background.

Front Hazard Camera image shows our current workspace, with Central Butte in the background. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Today we planned a 2-sol plan. Over the weekend, Curiosity drove around 40 meters, bringing us closer to Central Butte, and ended up on a small patch of bedrock. We are making a pit stop here, before driving another 20 meters closer to the Butte at the end of this plan, as we investigate contacts (i.e. boundaries) between what appear to be different units of bedrock here.

The Geology (GEO) theme group planned both contact science and remote imaging science. APXS is doing a short “Touch and Go” measurement on the target “Ben Hope,” a small laminated bedrock block. MAHLI will image this target, and ChemCam will use its laser to investigate this rock and another similar target “Taynish.”

Remote science is a big part of our work as we approach the Butte. In addition to supporting contact science in our current workspace, Mastcam will take several images of the Butte, to help categorize the bedrock units and potential contacts between them. Mastcam will also take multispectral images, which can be extremely useful in identifying differences in rock types that the human eye might miss.

The Environmental Theme Group (ENV) will look at the environmental conditions (clouds, atmospheric dust) in Gale and beyond. Mastcam will take “full tau” and “crater rim” images, which allows the ENV group to quantify dust in the crater and overhead in the atmosphere. At the top of each and every hour and in a series of extended hour-long measurements, the Rover Environmental Monitoring System (REMS) acquires temperature, pressure, humidity, and UV radiation measurements. DAN (Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons) continues its search for subsurface hydrogen, with frequent passive (utilizing cosmic rays as a source of neutrons to measure hydrogen) and post-drive active (actively shooting neutrons from the rover) measurements.