Curiosity Navcam Left B image acquired on Sol 1739, June 28, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity rover on Mars is carrying out Sol 1741 science tasks.

Curiosity recently drove roughly 112 feet (34 meters) to the east to position itself just north of a large field of ripples. The robot is moving closer to ascending the iron oxide-bearing Vera Rubin Ridge.

Gaze ahead

“As Curiosity progresses towards the east, scientists back on Earth continue to look for opportunities to both gaze ahead towards interesting locations on the ridge itself, in addition to looking at the local rocks and sediment surrounding the rover,” reports Mark Salvatore, a planetary geologist from the University of Michigan in Dearborn.

Curiosity Mastcam Left image taken on Sol 1739, June 28, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

As Curiosity approaches the lower units of Vera Rubin Ridge, measurements of the “typical” rock that surrounds the rover will be vital to helping scientists understand how and why the ridge is different than the other units that have been investigated thus far in Gale Crater.

Probing questions

Salvatore asks: Are we going to observe a very sharp transition in the composition and textures of rocks as we cross the threshold between the underlying mudstones of the Murray formation and the lowermost units of Vera Rubin Ridge? Or, alternatively, are we going to see a very subtle transition that might have gone unnoticed if not for the methodical measurements made upon approaching the ridge?

“Only time will tell, but we are making sure that we have the information necessary to definitively understand the nature of this transition,” Salvatore adds.

Curiosity Front Hazcam Right B image taken on Sol 1739, June 27, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Laser shots

Curiosity’s science plan for the next two days begins with firing the Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) laser at a bedrock target right in front of Curiosity known as “Cat Sized Island.”

“The rock is almost a meter in length — more of a bobcat size than a standard house cat — and shows some interesting nodular textures that the science team wants to investigate further,” Salvatore explains.

Take to the road

Following this measurement, two different regions of Vera Rubin Ridge itself will be imaged using the ChemCam high-resolution Remote Micro-Imager (RMI). These measurements and observations will be followed up with color images collected by Mastcam for general documentation of the ridge, Cat Sized Island, and the ChemCam target that was automatically analyzed after a previous drive.

Following these measurements, Curiosity will again take to the road and head further east northeast, positioning itself towards the northernmost tip of the nearby sand ripple patch.

Curiosity Mastcam Right image taken on Sol 1739, June 27, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Start the climb

In the next few days, the plan is to turn the Mars machinery towards the east southeast around these ripples and towards the ideal location to begin the climb up Vera Rubin Ridge, which is still another 900 feet (roughly 275 meters) distant.

With the Fourth of July holiday early next week, the plan includes activities for three days on the Martian surface.

“Following Curiosity’s drive, she will acquire her standard Navcam imagery surrounding the rover to allow Friday’s science planning team to have a good view of the area accessible to the rover and the instruments,” Salvatore notes.

Curiosity Mastcam Right image taken on Sol 1739, June 27, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Local winds

On the plan, the rover’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) is scheduled to image a tray on the rover deck that has been collecting windblown sand to help scientists better understand the properties of these particles and how the local winds are able to move materials.

Curiosity ChemCam Remote Micro-Imager photo acquired on Sol 1739, June 27, 2017. This is a dark-toned float rock named Whalesback and targeted with a 10 point ChemCam line scan.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

Curiosity is set to image Deimos using its Mastcam instrument.

“The next morning, Curiosity will resume her science activities with a series of ChemCam passive observations of calibration targets on the deck of the rover,” Salvatore explains, “as well as Mastcam imaging of the rover deck to check on the hardware and monitor debris cover.”

Beneath the rover

On the afternoon of the second day, Curiosity is to acquire additional images that have become a familiar and consistent component of the rover’s scientific investigation.

The fixed and immovable Mars Descent Imager, or MARDI, will acquire a suite of images looking just below the rover’s belly. MARDI routinely collects images of the ground immediately beneath the rover to characterize the physical properties of both rocks and sediment as the rover travels through Gale Crater. Because of its consistent viewing geometry and spatial resolution of approximately one millimeter per pixel, MARDI image acquisition has become a routine and integral component to our scientific investigation of the landscapes immediately surrounding the Curiosity rover as it continues to journey up Mt. Sharp.

Clouds in the sky

The third and final day of the observation plan will be dominated by environmental monitoring using both the Navcam and Mastcam instruments.

First, Navcam will acquire several images to hunt for dust devils in Gale Crater. Then, Mastcam will acquire images of the rim of Gale Crater to investigate the amount of dust in the Martian atmosphere.

Lastly, Navcam will point nearly straight up and acquire several images over several minutes to observe any possible clouds in the sky and their movement due to atmospheric winds.

“These observations will be used by scientists to improve our understanding of atmospheric processes on Mars and the specific atmospheric conditions present in Gale Crater,” Salvatore concludes.

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