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Sols 2645-2646: A Strange Trough on Western Butte
Posted on Monday January 13, 2020

Read article: Sols 2645-2646: A Strange Trough on Western Butte

While descending from Western Butte, Curiosity has stopped to investigate a strange trough along the way. In the images from orbit, it looks like someone drew a thick straight line with a dark felt marker on the southeastern side of the butte. From the ground, it looks like a shallow ditch filled with dark sand. We don't know what created this feature, or why it happens to be right here, so it's worth stopping for a closer look.

Over the weekend (Sols 2642-2644), Curiosity drove downhill and parked at the top of the trough, which we named "Balgy." The main event in today's plan (Sols 2645-2646) is a large Mastcam stereo mosaic covering both sides of Balgy Trough. We'll also take a smaller Mastcam stereo mosaic of laminated rocks nearby called "Baljaffray," and grab a quick set of MAHLI and APXS observations on the bedrock target "Kennedys Pass." After that, Curiosity will finish descending from Western Butte and will head south.

Written by Melissa Rice, Planetary Geologist at Western Washington University

Sols 2642-2644: Contact Science at Western Butte
Posted on Saturday January 11, 2020

Read article: Sols 2642-2644: Contact Science at Western Butte

Curiosity is still on the shoulder of Western Butte at a location that provides a good vantage point, exposes changes in stratigraphy, and reveals some interesting float blocks in our workspace. On Wednesday (planning Sols 2640-2641) we were able to conduct contact science on a bedrock target named "Buchan Haven," as seen in the above MAHLI image, which also shows where the Dust Removal Tool (DRT) cleared away a fresh surface. The three sol weekend plan is our second opportunity to do contact science here.

I was the SOWG Chair today, and it was a pretty busy day of planning. The plan kicks off with several ChemCam observations to assess the chemistry of a nodule target "Strathy Point," a vein target "Abernethy," and bedrock target "Glen Clunie," along with Mastcam documentation of these rocks. Then MAHLI and APXS will be used to characterize the grain size, sedimentary structures, and chemistry of "Lomond Hills" (a dark float block that might represent the butte capping unit), and "Abernethy" (an interesting vein). The second sol includes additional remote sensing, with several long distance RMI mosaics to assess the stratigraphy of the pediment and Gediz Vallis ridge, and a Mastcam multispectral observation of a light-toned vein at "Hascosay." The Environmental theme group planned a number of atmospheric monitoring observations, including a Mastcam tau, crater rim extinction, Navcam line of sight, and dust devil and suprahorizon movies. Then Curiosity will drive ~45 m to the northeast, down the eastern slope of the butte. After the drive we'll acquire imaging to help with context and targeting for next week. On the morning of Sol 2644, Curiosity will acquire additional environmental monitoring observations, and then run a SAM atmospheric methane observation.

Written by Lauren Edgar, Planetary Geologist at USGS Astrogeology Science Center

Sols 2640-2641: Like a Dog Under the Table…
Posted on Thursday January 09, 2020

Read article: Sols 2640-2641: Like a Dog Under the Table…

The Curiosity rover is still at the highest point it will reach on "Western Butte," having done a short bump to allow it to do contact science. You can check out the map of Curiosity's location here. The team would like to understand the composition, morphology, and ultimately, the origin of the capping unit of this butte. An image of this capping unit is shown above, taken by the Mastcam M100 camera on Sol 2635. The rocks look really interesting and unusual, but the butte is too steep to drive to the top to sample them. Fortunately, nature is kind to us, and somewhat like humans drop scraps to their pet dog under the table, nature has rolled some samples down to where the rover is. Some of those samples were highlighted in an earlier post. I gave a presentation within the team today on the first results of those rocks, while the rover makes more observations of them and of other features in the area.

Today the team planned two action-packed sols. Our planning session started rather late due to the lateness of the data downlink. This plan is a big opportunity for contact science, as the rover is on stable ground after being for several days with a wheel perched on a rock. Targets "Buchan Haven" (overnight) and "Heinrich Waenke" will be observed by APXS. The DRT is planning to be used. MAHLI will take images of "Abernethy," "Lochmond Hills," "Buchan Haven," and "Heinrich Waenke" (as close as 1 cm standoff distance). Additionally, there are Mastcam images of "Hangingstone Hill" (a dark float rock, potentially from the capping unit), "Strathy Point" (a nodule), "White Rashes" (local bedrock), and a 15x8 "Glen Torridon Mount Sharp Ascent Route" mosaic with the M100 camera. Mastcam will also observe "Buchan Haven," "Crianlarich Hills" (2 images), and will take an image of the calibration target. ChemCam will do a combination of long-distance imaging and compositional analyses of targets near the rover. The latter are "Hangingstone Hill," "Strathy Point," and "White Rashes," mentioned above. The long-distance mosaics are "Glen Docherty" and "LD Sulfate 2640a." Navcam will take a dust-devil movie. There is also a DAN active observation, a SAM scrubber activity, a Mastcam full tau, and RAD and REMS get-data activities.

The contact-science target "Heinrich Waenke" honors a late German scientist of that name (1928-2015) who was instrumental in the development of the APXS instrument, which was originally on the Sojourner rover, then was used on MER, and is now on MSL.

Written by Roger Wiens, Geochemist at Los Alamos National Laboratory

Sol 2639: SAM Is Feeling Better
Posted on Wednesday January 08, 2020

Read article: Sol 2639: SAM Is Feeling Better

Sunrise was late this morning in Earth's mid-northern latitudes, so I made a point of looking for Mars before dawn when I woke up. It was easily visible above Antares, the brightest star in Scorpius, named 'not Mars' in Greek because it is about as red and bright as the planet. Seeing that point of light in the morning sky reminded me how far away Mars is, and how fortunate we are to be operating a rover on its surface.

Later this morning, when planning began for Sol 2639, SAM was still marked sick, so the strategically planned bump was replaced with targeted science. Mastcam will extend the stereo mosaic of Western Butte and take a multispectral set of images of the 'Ben Eighe' outcrop (upper right of center). After the re-planned bump to fix the wheelie, the AEGIS software will be used to autonomously acquire ChemCam observations of 2 targets in the new workspace, Navcam will search for dust devils, and MARDI will again acquire an image of the ground behind the left front wheel during twilight.

Late during tactical planning this afternoon, SAM was marked healthy, so things are looking up for Sol 2640-2641 planning tomorrow.

Written by Ken Herkenhoff, Planetary Geologist at USGS Astrogeology Science Center

Sol 2638: All Too Familiar
Posted on Tuesday January 07, 2020

Read article: Sol 2638: All Too Familiar

We found out that over the weekend the planned "bump" to get the rover in position for contact science didn't execute. That meant that when we started planning today, we were greeted with the familiar view of the workspace from last week. Although it was disappointing that we weren't able to do contact science today, the bright side was that instead we got a massive 2 hour science block! We're in a great position to observe the Gediz Valles deposits (informally named "the claw") on top of the Greenheugh Pediment, so the Sol 2638 plan has three more ChemCam RMI mosaics in addition to the two collected over the weekend. The giant science block also allowed us to fit two ChemCam chemistry observations in. One was a follow up observation right next to the vein target Hascosay that was observed on sol 2636. Hascosay had some very interesting chemistry, so the new target "Northon" will take another look just a few centimeters away. The other ChemCam chemistry target is a small rock named "Bruntsfield" that looked a bit different than some of the other rocks in the area. Mastcam will document the two chemistry targets and then will collect a 3x1 mosaic of a group of rocks named "Clachtoll" to study their textures.

Amusingly, even though the target names Clachtoll and Bruntsfield were chosen at random from our long list of potential names, we learned that they were very familiar to one of our team members! He told us that he spent a lot of time camping at Clachtoll (the one on Earth, presumably) on one of his first major geology projects, and Bruntsfield was the name of a neighborhood in Edinburgh where he had lived! We resisted the urge to rename Clachtoll to simply "Sanjeev's tent."

The Sol 2638 plan is rounded out with some atmospheric observations: a dust devil movie at the end of the long science block, and a couple of movies to watch for clouds early in the morning on Sol 2639. Hopefully the bump will go well in the 2639 plan and we'll be back on track for contact science later in the week!

Written by Ryan Anderson, Planetary Geologist at USGS Astrogeology Science Center

Sols 2635-2637: Doing a Wheelie
Posted on Monday January 06, 2020

Read article: Sols 2635-2637: Doing a Wheelie

At the start of planning for the 3-sol weekend plan, we were told that telemetry showed one of Curiosity's middle wheels was lifted ~15 cm off the ground following the previous drive. This meant we needed to do a short ‘bump' to adjust the rover's position ready for Monday's planning and had to postpone the contact science we want to do while the rover sits at its highest point on Western Butte. Instead, we focused on doing all the remote surface science needed here and catching up on atmospheric monitoring observations after the holidays. Remote sensing observations included ChemCam rasters and Mastcam images of dark float blocks ("Shiskine" and "Lauderdale") and a vein complex ("Hascosay"), RMI mosaics on Gediz Valles mound materials ("Craw Tap" and "Gowrie"), Mastcam multispectral observations of Lauderdale, and Mastcam mosaics of the Western Butte top and the Greenheugh Pediment. We also took a MARDI image to monitor surface changes underneath the rover.

Atmospheric science activities included our regular REMS atmospheric monitoring, RAD radiation monitoring, and DAN passive and active measurements of the subsurface. In the first sol, we also planned a Dust Devil Survey to look for dust-filled convective vortices around local noon, when convection is strong. This was followed by late afternoon activities in the first sol and early morning activities in the third sol, all of which involved making measurements of aerosols (dust or water ice). The two timings were chosen partly so we have some idea how aerosols change with time of sol, but also because imaging early or late in the day is often the best time to find clouds, because relative humidity increases when temperatures cool (provided the amount of water vapor stays the same). In the late afternoon on the first sol, we planned Mastcam measurements of the atmospheric aerosol opacity in the column above us and Mastcam and Navcam measurements of the visibility across the crater. We also planned three cloud observations with Navcam: a Phase Function Sky Survey - a set of images that we use to infer the properties of cloud particles; a Cloud Altitude Observation - movies of clouds and their shadows on Mt. Sharp that, in combination, allow us to infer both the height and speed of the clouds; and a Supra-Horizon movie that looks for clouds over the rim of the crater. Finally, early in the third sol we again measured the column and across-crater opacity with Mastcam, then took Navcam Zenith and Supra-Horizon movies to look for clouds above Mt. Sharp and the crater rim, respectively. Finally, the SAM team decided to repeat an atmospheric observation to measure the methane abundance, and this was performed in the third sol of the plan.

Having ‘un-wheelied' in this plan, next week we'll be doing the contact science we missed over the weekend, then heading down the Western Butte again and toward the Greenheugh pediment.

Written by Claire Newman, Atmospheric Scientist, Aeolis Research

Sol 2634: Happy New Year From Mars!
Posted on Thursday January 02, 2020

Read article: Sol 2634: Happy New Year From Mars!

The two MRO passes that should have downlinked the data from Curiosity's New Year activities, to enable planning today, got delayed during processing on the ground. We did not get the images of our workspace until just prior to when we were supposed to deliver our plan. The Tactical Uplink Lead for the day gave us permission to delay delivery, and the team efficiently managed to add two targeted ChemCam analyses of bedrock ("Ben Eighe" and "Braid Hills"), with accompanying Mastcam documentation imaging. The rest of the plan was filled with untargeted environmental observations including ChemCam passive sky, a Navcam dust devil survey and cloud movie observations, as well as the standard REMS, DAN and RAD activities. A SAM scrubber clean and transfer data were also included, following on from SAM atmospheric measurements over the holiday period. Finally, a Navcam 3x1 mosaic was planned, which should facilitate targeting with Mastcam and the ChemCam Remote Micro-imager in upcoming plans.

The planned drive from the previous sol executed flawlessly, resulting in a stunning view of the top of Western Butte, and a workspace strewn with dark angular float rocks (not in place), on top of the paler, in-place bedrock. The previous workspace had also included intact bedrock with dark, angular float rocks. We received closer up images and compositional data for some of these float rocks over the holidays, revealing some interesting similarities to rocks encountered a lot earlier in the mission. The geologists are trying to figure out the relationship of the dark, angular blocks to the in-place bedrock, and intact darker, resistant, capping rock observed at the top of slopes immediately behind Western Butte. Everyone is excited to be able to continue to investigate the bedrock and float rock at this location, as well as to document the view afforded to Curiosity from this vantage point near the top of Western Butte.

Written by Lucy Thompson, Planetary Geologist at University of New Brunswick

Sols 2631-2633: Exciting Plans for New Year's Eve
Posted on Friday December 20, 2019

Read article: Sols 2631-2633: Exciting Plans for New Year's Eve

Today, we put together our last plan of the decade! On Wednesday, we planned activities for Curiosity up to December 30th. Today, we planned sols 2631-2633, which will be the last 3 martian days before we come back to planning bright and early on January 2, 2020.

We came into planning well prepared to ask for lots of good science. Wednesday's team wanted a number of activities that had to be postponed due to the late arrival of the necessary downlink data. We picked up these activities, including some very nice MAHLI images of the block 'Blackwaterfoot.' The rover planners put together both a closeup to evaluate the grain size of the rock and a large MAHLI mosaic to look at the geometry of the layers. The textures in Blackwaterfoot are interesting - and so is the chemistry. APXS and ChemCam will analyze the elemental composition of Blackwaterfoot, and ChemCam will target a similar block, 'Clashnessie' to see how much variation there is among the blocks.

We are also interested in the composition of the bedrock, and we planned a DRT and APXS analysis of the target 'Ben Arnaboll.' Mastcam will image these targets, take a nice stereo image of the butte we're on, image the distant scenery to the north, and take another image of 'Aryshire' to look for changes over the long holiday break. In addition, we'll do a drive up the slope (see image above) and take a large mosaic of the landscape to the south. This one will complement a similar mosaic we took earlier to give us good stereo information on the rough topography we'll be investigating in the new decade.

In terms of monitoring our environment, we are looking for dust devils and characterizing the dust and scattering in the atmosphere with images of the crater rim, several image suites of the sky, and Mastcam images of the sun. To take a picture of the sun, we use filter 7, which blocks enough of the sunlight that the camera sensor isn't damaged. Filter 7 is Mastcam with sunglasses! We'll also look for clouds, measure the weather conditions with REMS and characterize the subsurface with DAN. Finally, APXS will measure the amount of argon in the atmosphere. It can make this measurement without moving the arm since APXS points directly forward with the arm stowed.

None of the activities in the plan will be executed until December 31st, so they will be Curiosity's New Year's Eve celebration. Luckily, Curiosity's celebration won't keep it from working hard on January 1 and 2 since we have dozens of good observations planned for those days, too. We'll have lots of interesting data to start the new decade!

Written by Dawn Sumner, Planetary Geologist at University of California Davis

Sols 2620-2630: All Dressed up…
Posted on Thursday December 19, 2019

Read article: Sols 2620-2630: All Dressed up…

...and no data to (touch and) go on. We anxiously awaited the images from the end of our 20 m drive further up "Western Butte," as we anticipated having both the bedrock that covers this part of the butte and an intriguing dark block, possibly shed from a layer higher up on the butte, in the workspace. However, the two communication passes that were to deliver the data we needed to plan observations in the workspace only delivered a fraction of the expected data. The dearth of images meant that we could not target ChemCam, MAHLI, or APXS, or plan a drive. Thus, we settled into our home for the end of 2019 and did our best to fill the 11 sols covered by this plan despite our downlink challenges.

When we plan a large number of sols at one time, we cannot fill each sol with many activities, as it is very complicated to build and verify such a plan, and it increases the chances something will go wrong that will then impact all subsequent planned activities. To build a long but lower risk plan, we utilize sols that include only REMS data acquisition. For this plan, Sols 2622 to 2625 and 2627 to 2630 will be REMS-only sols. REMS will keep going on the other sols, too, giving us an unbroken record of Martian weather through the end of the year.

Sols 2620, 2621 and 2626 mark the few sols of the plan when the rover will be a bit more active. On Sol 2620, we fit in activities that could be planned with the little targeting data we had. Mastcam was able to plan a multispectral observation of the dark block in the workspace, named "Blackwaterfoot," two images of the target "Ayrshire" for the purposes of change detection, and a large mosaic of the "Greenheugh Pediment," of which we have a particularly nice view from the topside of the butte. ChemCam was able to plan two untargeted observations in the workspace using its autonomous target selection capability. No targeting data are required to look at the sky, so Mastcam and Navcam team up for observations of atmospheric dust load, dust devils and clouds. These activities will finish by the time planning starts on Friday, giving the operations team one last chance to recover from any issues and keep Curiosity on track up for a productive end to December.

From Sol 2620 into 2621, APXS will measure atmospheric argon, and then CheMin will attempt to clean out some previously used cells that have sample powder stubbornly stuck in them. On Sol 2626, DAN will ping the ground beneath us with passive and active measurements, ChemCam will carry out several calibration activities, Mastcam will image Ayrshire again to look for changes since Sol 2620, and then Mastcam and Navcam will acquire another round of observations of atmospheric dust load, dust devils and clouds. From Sol 2626 into 2627, SAM will measure atmospheric methane.

Late in the planning day today, a subsequent communication pass brought us the full view of our parking spot, one image of which is included above. The workspace is as promising as we had hoped! Studying it will be quite the way to start off 2020.

Written by Michelle Minitti, Planetary Geologist at Framework

Sols 2618-2619: Onward and Upward
Posted on Monday December 16, 2019

Read article: Sols 2618-2619: Onward and Upward

The nominal plan was to do a touch (contact science) and go (drive), as well as science observations with instruments located on Curiosity's mast. However, we made a decision early on during planning to forgo the contact science in order to try and optimize the drive, hopefully resulting in some different looking rocks being in the workspace for the following plan.

We have been driving up in elevation (>300 m) through a thick sequence of predominantly lighter coloured, fine grained mudstones with minor sandstones, interpreted to have been deposited in a lake environment. We have been observing from a distance a layer of darker coloured, resistant rock, capping the top of several hills (or buttes) for some time now, and such a layer occurs at the top of "Western Butte," the hill we have been climbing for the last week. We are hoping that the drive in tosol's plan will put a block of this dark rock in front of the rover, so that Curiosity can use both arm- and mast-mounted instruments to investigate the cap rock. The geologists on the team (including myself) are excited to investigate this different looking material to see how the composition and texture differs from the dominant, light coloured mudstones we have been driving over for the last several years, and what this can tell us about the geological history of this area. We also want to compare it to other resistant, dark coloured, coarse grained sandstones overlying the mudstones, that we encountered earlier in the mission.

To make sure that we are continuing to document the textures and chemistry of the rocks beneath our wheels, two rock targets on the typical lighter coloured bedrock were chosen for investigation with ChemCam and Mastcam; "Kelvingrove" and 'Keithick". Additionally, the Mastcam will image an unusual hollowed out area in the workspace ("Barra Fan") and an area with interesting textures, close to the planned end of drive location ("Hells Glen"). We will also acquire some longer distance Mastcam mosaics of the "Greenheugh Pediment" (which we hope to start investigating next year) and an area behind the rover to look at the relationships of some of the different units we have previously encountered.

Standard REMS, DAN passive and active and RAD activities were also planned.

The team is excited to see what the workspace will have to offer after the drive; a treasure trove of goodies for Curiosity to enjoy over the holiday season?

Written by Lucy Thompson, Planetary Geologist at University of New Brunswick

Sols 2615-2617: Keeping up the Pace on the Western Butte
Posted on Friday December 13, 2019

Read article: Sols 2615-2617: Keeping up the Pace on the Western Butte

Today, we planned a 3-sol weekend plan. Usually, the first day of a weekend plan is chock full of contact science, with evening and overnight analyses on a couple of different targets with APXS and MAHLI, plus ChemCam on several targets in the workspace, followed by a drive on the second sol. This weekend will be unusual, as the entire first day of the plan will be dedicated to the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument. SAM will run a daytime experiment to investigate methane levels in the atmosphere. This rare experiment is a chance to get some exciting science observations, but we'll need time after the experiment to analyze the data; we don't expect to have any takeaways right away.

The SAM experiment is very power intensive, so we are skipping our usual contact science here in favor of a more pared down science plan. Curiosity is keen to keep moving up Western Butte (one of a series of hills in this area). We are traversing rocks which are stratigraphically higher than those we have previously crossed, and everyone is eager to see what lies ahead. So rather than stay here too long, the geology theme group (GEO) opted to drive onwards, after a short early morning analysis (an aptly named "Touch and Go" analysis) on the target "North Esk" with MAHLI and APXS. ChemCam and Mastcam will investigate two bedrock targets "Bruces Haven" and "Aultbea" and then we drive roughly 22 meters further up the side of the Butte.

As we climb higher up the Butte, the views just keep getting better. Mastcam is going to image both along the Western Butte, and the top of the Butte and beyond, to a horizon that we hope to reach next year. Once the drive ends, Mastcam and Navcam will image the workspace to help us choose targets next week. In addition to the SAM experiment, the environmental theme group (ENV) planned activities to monitor dust and atmospheric conditions in Gale crater, and routine DAN and REMS activities.

I was the APXS Science planner this week. Climbing up the side of this Butte and reaching new stratigraphic highs has made for an exciting week, with everyone keen to see where the preceding day's drive has brought us.

Written by Catherine O'Connell, Planetary Geologist at University of New Brunswick

Sols 2613-2614: Trading One Conference for Another
Posted on Thursday December 12, 2019

Read article: Sols 2613-2614: Trading One Conference for Another

Every day or two, scientists and engineers on the rover team hop on the phone together to participate in a set of teleconferences (telecons). These virtual meetings are an essential part of the mission's infrastructure and provide a way for the team to remotely discuss and plan the rover's activities while being spread across many different parts of the country – and world!

Today, the phone line was a bit quieter than usual as many traded in our virtual conference for the annual American Geophysical Union conference (AGU), which is happening all this week in San Francisco. Scientific conferences are an important and useful way for us to share our research with others in the field and beyond, thus increasing the mission's overall reach. Cumulatively, the rover team submitted more than thirty abstracts to the meeting this year.

Those of us not attending AGU today called into our usual meetings ready to plan two sols of rover activities with a drive in the middle. An early discussion between rover planners and the science team led to a decision to shorten the drive distance, which afforded us more time for observations during the first sol's science block. Making this kind of major change to the plan in real-time would not be possible without our team telecons, which allow for quick and easy communication between different facets of the team.

Once the science block time was extended, the science team set to working filling it with observations of the butte outcrop in our workspace (shown in the Navcam image above). Three ChemCam targets were selected on the outcrop ("Ghrudaidh," "Glasnakille," and "Glenshee") and two Mastcam mosaics will provide context for the other observations. A Mastcam multispectral observation was planned for an anomalously bright target, "Glen Nevis." Before the drive, MAHLI and APXS will also be used to collect data on target "Glenmard Wood;" after the drive, an additional Mastcam mosaic of the new workspace will be acquired. On the second sol, we planned a 2-hour untargeted science block that will contain a ChemCam AEGIS observation and 25 minutes of environmental activities including REMS and DAN measurements.

Wishing all of our colleagues good luck on their AGU presentations and looking forward to hearing their voices back on the phone line next week!

Written by Mariah Baker, Planetary Geologist at Johns Hopkins University

Sols 2611-2612: Unconformities, Anyone?
Posted on Tuesday December 10, 2019

Read article: Sols 2611-2612: Unconformities, Anyone?

In a sedimentary environment, the principle of "superposition" specifies that lower rock layers were deposited earlier than the layers above them. In other words, time effectively moves forward when traversing "up-section" (traversing to higher rock layers). That's the direction that Curiosity has been moving, having traveled nearly 400 meters upwards from its landing site, so the rover is exploring rocks laid down more and more recently, though still a long time ago. Sometimes the rock record has an abrupt change due to missing rock layers that weathered or washed away before the next rock layer was deposited. The abrupt change in rock layers is called an unconformity. Curiosity observed a prominent unconformity earlier in the mission (in 2016) at and near Murray Buttes, which consist of sandstone made from sand that originally accumulated in the form of dunes. Murray Buttes, part of the Stimson formation, were deposited on top of flat-lying layers that were laid down in a lake. After the lake disappeared, the lacustrine layers were eroded down and then the sandstone of the buttes was deposited on top of the eroded layers. We do not know how much time passed between the lake era and the appearance, and eventual lithification (solidification) of the dune material.

Curiosity is approaching another unconformity—or maybe it is a distant part of the same one. A large sloping surface called Greenheugh pediment looms ahead, past Western Butte. Its surface, and the unconformity just below it, can be seen in the upper left of this image. Part of the exploration of Central and Western buttes is to determine their relationship to the unconformity.

In today's plan APXS, MAHLI, and ChemCam will be observing "Renfrewshire," which is a knobbly bedrock. MAHLI's images of that target consist of 5 cm stereo images as well as a 25 cm image. MAHLI will also take three images of "Tillietudlem" at 15 cm distance. ChemCam will do two more 10x1 LIBS line scans of "Barns Ness" (another knobbly bedrock) and "Bearreraig" (a dark area along a potential fracture). ChemCam will finish up with a single RMI image of "Ardvreck" to study its sedimentary structure. Mastcam will take a 9x2 mosaic to document these targets, a multispectral image of "Glen Trool" (bright area under the butte's capping unit), and an 11x2 mosaic of Western Butte. Near the end of the day, there is a drive planned for 45 meters, with post-drive images by Navcam, Mastcam, and MARDI.

On the second sol of this plan, ChemCam will do an AEGIS autonomous target selection and observation at the new rover location. There will be a 20 minute DAN active observation, a dust devil survey, a crater rim extinction image, and daytime and sunset tau observations. There is also a DAN passive observation and REMS and RAD will take data. Early on the morning of the third sol, the rover team is planning a SAM scrubber cleaning activity that takes several hours; it is being done to prepare for upcoming SAM analyses.

Written by Roger Wiens, Geochemist at Los Alamos National Laboratory

Sol 2608-2610: A Saint Nicholas Feast on Mars
Posted on Monday December 09, 2019

Read article: Sol 2608-2610: A Saint Nicholas Feast on Mars

​In Germany, children polish their shoes in the evening of the 5th of December to find them filled with treats of the season on the morning of Saint Nicholas day. I think, Curiosity must have polished her wheels nicely for Saint Nicholas day … and we got treated here on Earth! The rich workspace included bedrock, pebbly areas and a brighter float rock of a kind which has been observed frequently in the vicinity. Thus, lots of variety – and a three-sol plan to fill.

Today's plan made good use of the rock variety in the workspace. APXS will investigate two targets, "Scotnish" is a target which will be measured overnight after DRT of the area. "Gretna Green" is a touch and go target measured in standoff mode, because it is a small brighter float rock. It will be interesting to see how the difference in colour – mainly albedo – translates to chemistry. MAHLI is documenting the same rocks as APXS, and in addition will image "Smiddyhill" in dogs eye mode to get up close with the sedimentary textures. The scientists back on Earth are eagerly waiting to have a look at those images to understand the depositional conditions and also to correlate the rocks between the current investigations area at Western Butte.

ChemCam is busy with three targets. First, it is also investigating Gretna Green, and then adds a bedrock target named "Skaill" and a pebbly target called "Stoneypath" to its repertoire.

Mastcam adds to the feast with several large mosaics, looking at the pediment ahead, an area close to the rover for sand ripple studies and a target called "White Hills" for more sedimentary studies. There are also two multispectral investigations and the documentation of the ChemCam targets in Mastcam's plan.

This will keep Curiosity busy over the weekend, and on Monday we will study those images and data to correlate them with previous investigations, and looking forward to the top of the butte. Talking of looking forward: The planned drive is designed to get a block of rock into the workspace, which the planning team anticipates could allow us correlations not only around Western Butte, but also to Central Butte. Happy weekend, Curiosity!

Written by Susanne Schwenzer, Planetary Geologist at The Open University

Sol 2606-2607: If You See a Shadow, 6 More Months of Winter?
Posted on Wednesday December 04, 2019

Read article: 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!

Written by Scott Guzewich, Atmospheric Scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

Sols 2604-2605: A Touch-And-Go in the Post-Thanksgiving Plan
Posted on Tuesday December 03, 2019

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

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.

Written by Ashley Stroupe, Mission Operations Engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Sols 2600-2603: A Feast for the Eyes
Posted on Tuesday November 26, 2019

Read article: 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.

Written by Melissa Rice, Planetary Geologist at Western Washington University

Sols 2597-2599: A Bounty of Targets
Posted on Monday November 25, 2019

Read article: 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.

Written by Michelle Minitti, Planetary Geologist at Framework

Sols 2594-2596: Heading West and Settling in for Thanksgiving
Posted on Friday November 22, 2019

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

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.

Written by Catherine O'Connell, Planetary Geologist at University of New Brunswick

Sols 2592-2593: '...Till Birnam Forest Come to Dunsinane'
Posted on Wednesday November 20, 2019

Read article: 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!

Written by Mark Salvatore, Planetary Geologist at University of Michigan







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