Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 2626, December 26, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now wrapping up Sol 2626 tasks.

Curiosity science team members have put together a last plan of the decade for the robot, reports Dawn Sumner, a planetary geologist at the University of California, Davis.

Sols 2631-2633 have been scripted, “which will be the last 3 martian days before we come back to planning bright and early on January 2, 2020,” Sumner explains.

“We came into planning well prepared to ask for lots of good science,” Sumner adds.

Blackwaterfoot is under scrutiny seen here in Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera Right B image acquired on Sol 2626, December 26, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Blackwaterfoot investigations

The team wanted a number of activities that had to be postponed due to the late arrival of the necessary downlink data. Those activities have been picked up, including some Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) images of the block “Blackwaterfoot.”

Rover planners put together both a close-up of Blackwaterfoot to evaluate the grain size of the rock and a large MAHLI mosaic to look at the geometry of the layers.

Curiosity Mast Camera Left image acquired on Sol 2620, December 20, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The textures in Blackwaterfoot are interesting, Sumner points out, and so is the chemistry. Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) and Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) will analyze the elemental composition of Blackwaterfoot, and ChemCam will target a similar block, “Clashnessie” to see how much variation there is among the blocks.

There’s also interest in the composition of the bedrock, and researchers planned a Dust Removal Tool (DRT) and APXS analysis of the target “Ben Arnaboll.”

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 2620, December 20, 2019.The slope steepens upward toward the top of Western Butte. Rover planners will drive Curiosity, ending up near the top of the light-colored bedrock outcrop.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Butte stereo image

The robot’s Mastcam will image these targets, take a stereo image of the butte the rover is on, image the distant scenery to the north, and take another image of “Aryshire” to look for changes over the long holiday break.

“In addition, we’ll do a drive up the slope and take a large mosaic of the landscape to the south,” Sumner reports. “This one will complement a similar mosaic we took earlier to give us good stereo information on the rough topography we’ll be investigating in the new decade.”

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 2626, December 26, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

In terms of monitoring the rover’s environment, scientists are looking for dust devils and characterizing the dust and scattering in the atmosphere with images of the crater rim, several image suites of the sky, and Mastcam images of the sun.

Sun scan

“To take a picture of the sun, we use filter 7,” Sumner explains, “which blocks enough of the sunlight that the camera sensor isn’t damaged. Filter 7 is Mastcam with sunglasses!”

Mars researchers are also on the lookout for clouds, measuring the weather conditions with Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) and characterize the subsurface with Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN).

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 2626, December 26, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Lastly, Curiosity’s APXS will measure the amount of argon in the atmosphere. It can make this measurement without moving the arm since APXS points directly forward with the arm stowed.

“None of the activities in the plan will be executed until December 31st, so they will be Curiosity’s New Year’s Eve celebration,” Sumner concludes. “Luckily, Curiosity’s celebration won’t keep it from working hard on January 1 and 2 since we have dozens of good observations planned for those days, too. We’ll have lots of interesting data to start the new decade!”

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