Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera image acquired on Sol 2852, August 14, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now drawing closure on Sol 2852 tasks.

Recent images of the “Mary Anning” drill hole, have sparked the Mars science team’s interest for both scientific and operational reasons, reports Mariah Baker, Planetary Geologist at the Center for Earth & Planetary Studies in the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

Images have revealed that wind is steadily eroding the fine material that originally surrounded the drill hole, providing observational evidence that the robot has again entered the windy season in Gale crater.

“As exciting as this is for those of us who study wind and have been patiently awaiting the return of the windy season,” Baker adds, “it is also important for the operations team. When we determine that wind is blowing material around on the surface, certain steps need to be taken to ensure safe and successful data collection.”

Curiosity Chemistry & Camera RMI produced on Sol 2852, August 14, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

Dump pile

Timely assessment of wind activity is especially valuable when Mars researchers are trying to study fine material that is susceptible to being blown away, “both because wind-induced movement can impact our measurements but also because we don’t want any material blowing onto our instruments when we put them in close proximity to the surface,” Baker points out.

As a major component of a new plan is creating and analyzing a dump pile of fine drilled material, the Mars scientists had to carefully consider the wind conditions and adjust the plan accordingly.

“But a little wind wasn’t going to deter us,” Baker adds. “The team pushed on, scheduling almost two hours’ worth of science observations aimed at studying features both near and far. Within the immediate workspace, efforts will focus on the drill hole and the dump pile that will be created on the first sol of the plan.”

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera Right B image taken on Sol 2852, August 14, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Wind-induced accumulation

The drill hole will be targeted with the Chemistry and Camera’s (ChemCam) Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) instrument and imaged with Mastcam in order to confirm that the laser hit the intended target.

This Mastcam image will also be added to the set of drill hole images already acquired, allowing the science team to continue monitoring wind activity at the robot’s current locale.

Similarly, a single Mastcam image of the rover deck (which is acquired regularly by the team) will be used to track wind-induced accumulation of sand on the deck.

Distant targets

The dump pile will be studied with Mastcam multispectral images, as well as with the rover’s Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) and its Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), but the closest-approach MAHLI images will be taken with the cover on in order to keep the camera safe from wind-blown material, Baker notes.

A ChemCam depth profile observation and Mastcam documentation image will also be acquired on target “Ayton,” which is located on the same bedrock slab as the drill hole and dump pile.

Two distant targets also captured the team’s attention: a light-toned area of the Vera Rubin Ridge will be analyzed with a Mastcam multispectral observation and a long-distance ChemCam Remote Micro-Imager (RMI), and Mount Sharp’s sulfate unit will be targeted with a second long-distance ChemCam RMI.

Quickly-changing conditions

Three rover Navcam observations aimed at assessing dust and cloud activity (a dust devil movie, a line-of-sight image, and a suprahorizon cloud movie) were also included in this large science block. Two additional environmental observations, a Mastcam tau image and a Navcam zenith movie, were also planned for later in the day when lighting conditions were more optimal.

“Although uncontrollable factors such as wind can pose an additional challenge for rover operations,” Baker concludes, “it’s nothing we can’t handle. Doing science on another planet often requires adapting to quickly-changing conditions, and the rover team is very accustomed to working around whatever is thrown – or blown – at us.”

Overnight measurement

Meanwhile, Vivian Sun, a planetary geologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory also reports that, over this weekend, Curiosity will focus on wrapping up the sequence of drill-related activities at the Mary Anning target while the team considers if they want to drill a second location here.

The Chemical and Mineralogy instrument, or CheMin for short, performs chemical analysis of powdered rock samples to identify the types and amounts of different minerals that are present.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“On sol 2853, APXS will make a long overnight observation of the drill tailings, giving us a detailed look at the chemical composition of this rock,” Sun explains. “The next day on sol 2854, CheMin will have its turn at a long overnight measurement to determine the mineralogy of Mary Anning.”

History of the rocks

On sol 2853, APXS will make a long overnight observation of the drill tailings, giving us a detailed look at the chemical composition of this rock.

The next day on sol 2854, the rover’s Chemistry & Mineralogy X-Ray Diffraction/X-Ray Fluorescence Instrument (CheMin) will have its turn at a long overnight measurement to determine the mineralogy of Mary Anning.

“ChemCam will also make a passive observation of the sample dump pile,” Sun says, “adding to our rich collection of remote sensing observations characterizing: the pre-drilled surface, the drill hole and drill tailings, and now the dump pile. The extensive documentation that we do in all drill campaigns, involving both arm and mast instruments to study the drill hole and surrounding environment, goes a long way in helping scientists understand the history of these rocks and how they formed.”



Leave a Reply