Rover drill checkup. Curiosity Mastcam Right image taken on Sol 2113, July 17, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS


NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is engaged in Sol 2114 duties, finishing up at the Voyageurs drill site.

Reports Mark Salvatore, a planetary geologist at the University of Michigan in Dearborn: “After our attempt to drill the Voyageurs target did not reach sufficient depth due to the impressive hardness of the rock, the team is beginning to finish up its activities at this location before heading a bit further uphill to find a more suitable (i.e., softer) drill target.”

Hardest yet observed

Salvatore notes that all evidence suggests that this rock target is one of the hardest yet observed in Gale crater, a property that may be indicative of this entire section of the Vera Rubin Ridge.

“To a geologist, variations in rock hardness could indicate several different physical and chemical properties about a rock,” Salvatore adds. “It is important for us to further characterize and understand why this rock unit is so much harder than the underlying rocks within the Murray formation.”

Voyageurs drill site. Curiosity Mastcam Right image taken on Sol 2113, July 17, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Formation mechanisms

Salvatore speculates, could this increased hardness be related to changes in water chemistry as the sedimentary rocks were being deposited? Or, could this increased hardness be due to subsequent cementation as iron-rich water was injected into the previously deposited sedimentary rocks?

“In order to address these possible formation mechanisms (and countless others), we must continue to gather data on the physical, chemical, and mineralogical properties of this portion of the Vera Rubin Ridge,” Salvatore explains.

New plans

A new set of Curiosity activities contain a combination of scientific investigations and engineering activities.

The plan starts with a short imaging science block where Mastcam will be used to acquire images of the surrounding landscape to search for short-term changes to the surface, including sand migration and changes to dust cover.

The robot’s Navcam will also be used to investigate the atmospheric dust content and to search for nearby dust devils.

Following this block of observations, Curiosity will use the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) high-resolution camera to investigate the shallow Voyageurs drill hole and to image the rover wheels with its dust cover closed (to avoid dirtying the camera lens).

Drill hole documentation

“After a short nap and a data uplink to the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter as it passes overhead,” Salvatore says that Curiosity is slated to embark on another block of science activities. This second suite will include Mastcam images of the dusty atmosphere, a Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS) chemical analysis of the Voyageurs drill hole, a LIBS measurements of the ChemCam calibration target, and a follow-up Mastcam documentation image of the drill hole.

Laser shots. Curiosity ChemCam Remote Micro-Imager photo acquired on Sol 2113, July 17, 2018
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

This will conclude the sol 2114 science activities.

Deluge of discussions

The team first had to deal with the realization that the drill activities at the Voyageurs target did not penetrate deep enough into the target to acquire materials for analysis onboard the rover.

“While disappointing, the information gathered about the rock properties and drill activities led to a deluge of productive scientific discussions about how to proceed and what these observations tell us about the geologic environment that Curiosity is investigating,” Salvatore reports.

Scientists and engineers can collectively turn a “frustrating sigh into a gasp of excitement” as researchers think about next observations and what more they have to learn about this interesting and foreign environment, Salvatore concludes.

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