Curiosity Navcam Left B image acquired on Sol 2087, June 20, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now performing Sol 2088 science duties.

Reports Mark Salvatore, a planetary geologist at the University of Michigan in Dearborn: “Over the past week or so, Curiosity has experienced increasingly dusty conditions in Gale crater. Unlike her older cousin Opportunity on the other side of the planet, Curiosity is not solar powered and, therefore, doesn’t suffer from the same power issues resulting from the darkening skies that Opportunity does. That allows Curiosity to play more of an active role in monitoring this dust storm from the ground and collecting important information to help scientists understand the evolution of such a weather phenomenon.”

Curiosity Navcam Right B photo taken on Sol 2087, June 20, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Short drive

Salvatore explains that, after an unexpectedly short drive on Sol 2086 due to some “slippery” ground conditions, Curiosity made a very short drive in the Sol 2087 plan due to additional wheel slippage.

“In fact, Curiosity only recorded a drive of 17 millimeters,” Salvatore adds, “or about half an inch!” So the robot’s scenic view is very similar to landscape views in the near past.

Heading south

“The science team did a great job in taking advantage of this familiar landscape by planning several new measurements,” Salvatore points out.

Laser shots. Curiosity ChemCam Remote Micro-Imager photo acquired on Sol 2087, June 20, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

The robot’s Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) is to use its Laser Induced Breakdown Spectrometer (LIBS) capabilities to analyze targets named “Beaver Bay,” “Moose Mountain,” and “Breakwater,” while Mastcam and Navcam will dedicate their efforts primarily towards documenting these ChemCam targets and making environmental observations.

“The plan is to then drive away from this location heading south back up the Vera Rubin Ridge,” Salvatore explains. “Following the drive, we will make some additional environmental measurements and acquire our standard post-drive observations in preparation for our next day of planning on Friday.”

Check out the differences between Mastcam images of Duluth drill hole on Sol 2078 and image below taken on Sol 2084. Color contrast has decreased significantly as the air has become redder and sunlight is scattered more and more as the dust storm continues to evolve. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS


Looking into thin air

A really “cool observation” is on tap using ChemCam LIBS observation of thin air, Salvatore says. “The idea is to target the ChemCam laser into the dusty martian air. By observing the amount of dispersion of the laser pulse, the team will be able to make some really cool observations and estimations of atmospheric dust abundances. This is equivalent to shining a laser pointer into the sky during a foggy day, or in a dusty classroom. It’s a new tool available to Curiosity thanks to some really ingenious planning by the scientists and engineers, and today is the first day that we will make this observation, so stay tuned!”

Sunlight scattering

Like overcast days here on Earth, Salvatore adds, there are very few shadows currently observed in Gale crater when the sun is overhead. “The red martian dust in the atmosphere is scattering nearly all observed sunlight, creating dim and diffuse conditions.”

It’s clear that the amount of color contrast has decreased significantly as the air has become redder and sunlight is scattered more and more. “We’ll continue to monitor the amount of atmospheric scattering as the dust storm evolves over the next few weeks,” Salvatore concludes.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

New road map

Meanwhile a new Curiosity traverse map through Sol 2087 has been issued.

The map shows the route driven by NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity through the 2087 Martian day, or sol, of the rover’s mission on Mars (June 20, 2018).

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 2086 to Sol 2087, Curiosity had driven a straight line distance of about 0.06 feet (0.02 meters), bringing the rover’s total odometry for the mission to 11.85 miles (19.08 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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