NASA’s Curiosity rover on Mars has just begun Sol 1668.
A drive by the robot has put it into position in front of the interesting “Moosehead Lake” outcrop with lots of veins and grey patches, “plenty to keep Curiosity busy over the weekend!”
That’s the word from Ryan Anderson, a planetary scientist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona and Michael Battalio, a Ph.D. candidate in atmospheric science at Texas A&M.
Long science block
The Sol 1668 plan is to start off with a long science block.
Curiosity’s Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam) is to make observations of targets “Sheldrake Island,” “Crabtree Neck,” “Waukeah Neck,” “Morancy Stream” and “Ogden Point.”
This is to be followed by a dust devil survey and several Mastcam mosaics. These include one covering Moosehead Lake, a few frames to extend the coverage of the area near the rover, and a big 22 frame mosaic of the outcrop at the rover’s next stop.
The robot’s Mastcam is slated to also take a picture of the ChemCam auto-targeted location after the drive. After that the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) is to acquire pictures of the targets “Morancy Stream” and “Sheldrake Island” and then the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) is on tap to analyze those two targets.
On Sol 1669, the robot’s arm is to be retracted for the next drive, followed by post-drive imaging and a Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) observation in the evening.
On Sol 1670, the plan calls for a short morning block of atmospheric observations and a longer afternoon block containing a Mastcam image of the rover deck, another dust devil observation, and an auto-targeted ChemCam observation.
“We will wrap up Sol 1670 with some observations of the dust in the atmosphere to compare with the morning,” report Anderson and Battalio.
A recap of environmental science done over the last week has Curiosity acquiring the usual Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) and Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN) measurements. In addition, the rover performed Navcam cloud observation movies throughout the week.
The pointing direction of the cloud movies was shifted from north-facing to south-facing to avoid the sun. The movies will remain pointed towards the south until just after the southern hemisphere spring equinox in May 2018.
Also, there was a Navcam dust devil survey on Sol 1670, as well as one earlier in the week on sol 1668.
Also captured earlier last week was a ChemCam passive sky observation on sol 1665 that had been previously dropped twice from the plan due to the DSN outage two weeks ago and sun safety issues the week before.
Difficult sky observations
“Planning passive sky observations is difficult,” Anderson and Battalio report, “they are among the most time consuming and time constrained atmospheric observations.”
This is because the observation requires ChemCam to take passive spectra of the sky at two different azimuths and the instrument must avoid the Sun’s path as it slews between those locations, the two Mars scientists add. “This can be difficult near equinoxes when the Sun passes directly overhead!”
As always, carrying out planned rover activities are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.