Curiosity Navcam Right B image acquired on Sol 1696, May 14, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover is busy at work carrying out Sol 1697 duties.

Reports Michelle Minitti, a planetary geologist at Framework in Silver Spring, Maryland, Curiosity is continuing its detailed investigation of a suite of outcrops within the vicinity of the robot.

Curiosity Navcam Right B image acquired on Sol 1696, May 14, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Varied outcrop structures

“As we climb up Mount Sharp, recently over slopes of 4-6 degrees, we have seen more varied outcrop structures and chemistries than the rest of the Murray formation, and such changes catch the collective eye of the team,” Minitti notes.

One target in the robot’s workspace in particular is “Mason Point” receiving the “royal treatment” Minitti adds, with five separate science observations directed at this feature.

“The reason it will receive such attention is that it will be brushed by the Dust Removal Tool (DRT), removing the thin veneer of obscuring dust that has settled on the rock surface,” Minitti points out.

Curiosity Front Hazcam Left B image acquired on Sol 1696, May 14, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Texture and grain size

From the brushed Mason Point target, Curiosity will take Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) photos to study the target’s texture and grain size, the Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) and Mastcam spectra of the light reflected off the surface to constrain mineralogy, and an Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) analysis to get chemistry.

Curiosity ChemCam Remote Micro-Imager photo acquired on Sol 1697, May 15, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

“We will also analyze the chemistry of Mason Point with a ChemCam raster, but before it is brushed. Why? ChemCam’s laser not only probes chemistry, it clears dust! The comprehensive and complementary datasets obtained from Mason Point will further our understanding of this target better than any single analysis would alone,” Minitti explains.

Prominent layering

Mason Point will get the most focused attention, but the analysis of many other targets will help the science team probe the overall variety of the rocks in this area.

MAHLI, APXS and ChemCam are slated to study “Mitchell Hill,” a bedrock target exhibiting prominent layering.

ChemCam will also shoot “Mount Gilboa” to gather not only chemistry but grain size data for this target. Mastcam mosaics centered on Mitchell Hill and “Manchester Point” will capture orientations of layers in these targets that might help reveal how the layers formed.

MAHLI monitoring

“In a change of pace from looking at rocks, Curiosity invested time in the plan acquiring images with MAHLI that monitor the health and performance of the instrument,” Minitti adds. “MAHLI imaged her calibration target, which contains well known color and geometric targets that offer a test of instrument performance.”

Minitti reports that MAHLI also imaged the APXS calibration target, a slab of finely polished basalt that serves as a chemistry standard for APXS.

Curiosity Mastcam Right image taken on Sol 1695, May 13, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Sky flats

“MAHLI then turned her eye to the sky, purposely acquiring images of featureless parts of the sky,” Minitti explains. “These images, called sky flats, help reveal the presence of dust on the MAHLI lens. Just like dentist appointments, calibration ‘checkups’ occur about every six months. Happily, MAHLI checkups are pain free.”

The plan calls for Curiosity’s drive over 164 feet (50 meters) along the rover’s strategic drive path, as Mastcam and Navcam obtain a number of images and movies used to measure the amount of dust in the atmosphere, scan the atmosphere for dust devils, and search the sky overhead and near the horizon for clouds.

These environmental observations will be complemented by Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN) passive and active measurements that seek subsurface hydrogen; Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD) measurements that monitor the radiation environment at the surface; and Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) measurements used to produce regular Martian weather reports.

New map

A Curiosity traverse map through Sol 1696 has been issued.


This map shows the route driven by NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity through the 1696 Martian day, or sol, of the rover’s mission on Mars (May 14, 2017).

Numbering of the dots along the line indicate the sol number of each drive. North is up. The scale bar is 1 kilometer (~0.62 mile).

From Sol 1693 to Sol 1696, Curiosity had driven a straight line distance of about 148.52 feet (45.27 meters), bringing the rover’s total odometry for the mission to 10.19 miles (16.40 kilometers).

The base image from the map is from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment Camera (HiRISE) in NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

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