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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

Sol 2591: Characterizing Bedrock at Central Butte
Posted on Wednesday November 20, 2019

Read article: 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!

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

Sol 2590: Making a U-Turn
Posted on Tuesday November 19, 2019

Read article: Sol 2590: Making a U-Turn

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.

Written by Fred Calef, Planetary Geologist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Sols 2587-2589: Curiosity De-Butte
Posted on Friday November 15, 2019

Read article: 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.

Written by Roger Wiens, Geochemist at Los Alamos National Laboratory

Sols 2585-2586: What a Butte!
Posted on Thursday November 14, 2019

Read article: 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.

Written by Claire Newman, Atmospheric Scientist, Aeolis Research

Sols 2583-2584: Trying Not to Slip
Posted on Monday November 11, 2019

Read article: 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.

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

Sols 2581-2582: It's Soliday Time Again!
Posted on Saturday November 09, 2019

Read article: 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.

Written by Abigail Fraeman, Planetary Geologist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Sols 2579 - 2580: Touch and Go? No!
Posted on Thursday November 07, 2019

Read article: Sols 2579 - 2580: Touch and Go? No!

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.

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

Sols 2577-2578: En Route Around Central Butte
Posted on Tuesday November 05, 2019

Read article: 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.

Written by Mariah Baker, Planetary Geologist at Johns Hopkins University

Sols 2574-2576: Characterizing Central Butte
Posted on Friday November 01, 2019

Read article: 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!

Written by Kristen Bennett, Planetary Geologist at USGS Astrogeology Science Center

Sol 2572-2573: Central Butte Rocks
Posted on Thursday October 31, 2019

Read article: Sol 2572-2573: Central Butte Rocks

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.

Written by Fred Calef, Planetary Geologist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory







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