Curiosity Navcam Left B image acquired on Sol 1730, June 18, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is performing science duties, now in Sol 1732 operations.

The robot continues to wheel towards Vera Rubin Ridge, reports Mark Salvatore, a planetary geologist and a Curiosity participating scientist and faculty member at Northern Arizona University.

“Curiosity continues to make progress along its planned ascent route up Mt. Sharp, and is quickly approaching the hematite-bearing Vera Rubin Ridge,” Salvatore explains.

Courtesy: Abigail Fraeman.

Signatures of hematite

“As a refresher, Vera Rubin Ridge is a high-standing unit that runs parallel to and along the eastern side of the Bagnold Dunes. From orbit, Vera Rubin Ridge has been shown to exhibit signatures of hematite, an oxidized iron phase whose presence can help us to better understand the environmental conditions present when this mineral assemblage formed,” Salvatore points out.

Courtesy: Abigail Fraeman.

Large rocky slab

Last weekend, the robot drove approximately 105 feet (32 meters) and parked in front of a large rocky slab that’s nearly the size of a large dining room table. Smaller rocky patches are nearby, “perfect for our continued documentation of the local bedrock,” Salvatore adds.

This rocky slab will be extensively imaged using Curiosity’s Mastcam. In addition to imaging, three rocky targets will be chemically analyzed by the rover.

Bedrock chemistry

“Pierce Head” represents a piece of the Murray formation and will be investigated using the rover’s Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) and the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS), as well as the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) for context imaging.

Curiosity Front Hazcam Right B image taken on Sol 1730, June 18, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Doing so, Curiosity can fully characterize the bedrock chemistry at its current location.

Alternatively, “Mosely Point” and “Leland Point” appear darker in tone, Salvatore adds, and exhibit slightly rougher and smoother textures, respectively, and will be investigated using only ChemCam.

Rough terrain

After these analyses, the robot is slated to set off on another drive over rough terrain to the east, where the rover will document its surroundings using its automated ChemCam targeting capabilities and its suite of cameras.

“In particular, the rover will turn its cameras to Vera Rubin Ridge for another suite of high resolution color images, which will help to characterize any observed layers, fractures, or geologic contacts,” Salvatore notes. “These observations will help the science team to determine how Vera Rubin Ridge formed and its relationship to the other geologic units found within Gale Crater.”

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) image from Sol 1730 June 18, 2017. MAHLI is located on the turret at the end of the rover’s robotic arm
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Deimos observation

Salvatore explains that “another super interesting observation” will be made during this planning period: an opportunistic nighttime astronomical observation of Mars’ smallest moon, Deimos, which will be imaged using Mastcam.

Even though Deimos is only roughly 8 miles in diameter, Mastcam’s resolution and pointing capabilities make these observations seem routine. “Imaging Mars’ moons allow scientists to better understand the evolution of their orbits over time,” Salvatore adds.

Restricted planning

Curiosity researchers are currently in a phase of “restricted planning,” where the offset in time between the Earth and Mars prohibits the ability to downlink data with sufficient time to plan on a daily basis. So, the science and engineering teams have planned two days’ worth of rover activities.

“We will reconvene on Wednesday to produce a similar two-day plan, and will do so through next week,” Salvatore concludes, assuring that Curiosity is busy as it continues its journey up Mt. Sharp.

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