Curiosity Front Hazcam Right B image taken on Sol 2402, May 10, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has just started to perform Sol 2403 duties.

Reports Lucy Thompson, a planetary geologist at the University of New Brunswick, Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada: The go ahead has been given to start planning to proceed with dumping the Kilmarie drill fines from the robot’s drill bit assembly.

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) image produced on Sol 2402, May 10, 2019. MAHLI is located on the turret at the end of the rover’s robotic arm.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Pulverized sample

Both the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) Instrument Suite and Chemistry & Mineralogy X-Ray Diffraction/X-Ray Fluorescence Instrument (CheMin) instrument have completed or are nearing completion of analyses of the pulverized Kilmarie sample, Thompson adds. Now it’s the turn of the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) and Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) to analyze the material.

Curiosity Mastcam Right photo acquired on Sol 2401, May 9, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

“As a member of the APXS team and the strategic planner today for our instrument, I was excited to use APXS and to start analyzing the drill fines,” Thompson explains.

“We have been waiting patiently to use APXS and MAHLI, because any arm activity is precluded while sample is in the drill bit assembly.”

Comparing drill holes

The chemical analysis of the dumped material by APXS and eventually the Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) will be compared with that of the bedrock surface prior to drilling, as well as to the nearby “Aberlady” drill fines, “to look for variations in composition with depth and between the two drill holes,” Thompson adds.

Curiosity Navcam Right B image taken on Sol 2402, May 10, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Specifically, the APXS-derived chemistry of the dumped material will be used by the Chemistry & Mineralogy X-Ray Diffraction/X-Ray Fluorescence Instrument (CheMin) team to refine their mineralogical analysis.

Curiosity Navcam Right B image taken on Sol 2402, May 10, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Dumped material

“The close-up imaging by MAHLI will tell us about the texture and color of the fines in detail and assist the APXS team in determining exactly where our instrument was placed,” Thompson notes.

Curiosity Navcam Right B image taken on Sol 2402, May 10, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity’s MAHLI will also image the drill hole and tailings (powdered rock material surrounding the drill hole) at a 25 centimeter standoff to assist placement of APXS and closer-up MAHLI imaging in the next plan.

Mastcam multispectral imaging and ChemCam passive spectroscopy of the Kilmarie dumped material will aid in further elucidating mineralogy.

Bedrock types

Aside from concentrating on the dumped Kilmarie drill fines, the plan included two ChemCam 5×1 active Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) analyses to further characterize the transition between compositional end-member bedrock types exposed in the area (targets “Valtos” and “Wishaw”).

“A ChemCam experiment was also planned,” Thompson points out, “in order to test a new way of protecting ChemCam from being damaged by inadvertently pointing at the sun.”

The new method allows ChemCam to take advantage of local terrain features to block the sun, allowing the instrument to target more distant features than if it had to stay below an imaginary, level horizon.

Ripple field

“A Mastcam mosaic will add to images already acquired of a nearby ripple field, where we are planning to conduct a more detailed study in the near future,” Thompson reports.

The robot’s environmental observations included standard background Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) activities to monitor the daily martian weather; use of the Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD) to monitor the radiation environment; and Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN) passive measurements to study the abundance and distribution of subsurface H- and OH-bearing materials.

Lastly, Thompson says that a Navcam suprahorizon movie will look for clouds and optical depth of the atmosphere and a Mastcam tau observation pointed towards the sun will measure atmospheric opacity.

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