Curiosity Mastcam Left image taken on Sol 1732, June 20, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is performing Sol 1734 duties and “gazing longingly towards Vera Rubin Ridge,” reports Mark Salvatore, a planetary geologist and a Curiosity participating scientist and faculty member at Northern Arizona University.

Curiosity Mastcam Left image taken on Sol 1732, June 20, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

“Curiosity continues to drive to the east-northeast around two small patches of dunes that are positioned just north of Vera Rubin Ridge,” Salvatore adds. “Once beyond this easternmost dune patch, the plan is for her to turn to the southeast and towards the location identified as the safest place for Curiosity to ascend the ridge.”

Salvatore reports that this ridge ascent point is roughly 1,214 feet (370 meters) away, which is less than the exterior length of Wembley Stadium in London. “If only the path ahead were as smooth as a soccer pitch!”

Variations in brightness

Following a drive of roughly 50 feet (15 meters) the robot is situated in front of several small patches of rock about the size of large textbooks.

Curiosity Navcam Right B image taken on Sol 1733, June 21, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“One of these rocks, a target known as “Pecks Point” exhibits some interesting variations in brightness,” Salvatore notes, so its chemistry will be analyzed using the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) and Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instruments, and it will be imaged using both the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) and Mastcam.

Ridge viewing

“The remainder of the science for this plan is focused on gazing longingly towards Vera Rubin Ridge. From this vantage point, we will be acquiring imagery of the northern exposure of the ridge — named “Northern Neck” — using several techniques,” Salvatore says.

Courtesy: Abigail Fraeman.

First in the plan is to use the multispectral capabilities of Mastcam to investigate any possible compositional variations observed within this lower ridge material. Next in the plan is to take a series of overlapping high-resolution images using ChemCam’s remote microimager.

Curiosity Mastcam Left image acquired on Sol 1730, June 18, 2017.

“Although these images won’t cover the entirety of the exposure,” Salvatore notes, “they will allow scientists to interrogate the fine-scale sedimentary structures present within the ridge.

On the plan is to again turn to the rover’s Mastcam to image the entirety of “Northern Neck” in true-color, “similar to how your eyes would perceive the ridge if you were standing on the surface,” says Salvatore.

Curiosity Navcam Left B image taken on Sol 1733, June 21, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


After this science imaging, Curiosity is slated to again take off driving towards the east-northeast. The following day, Curiosity will image the rover deck using Mastcam, hunt for dust devils using the navigation cameras, and acquire additional chemistry data of local targets using ChemCam’s automated target selection software known as AEGIS.

Salvatore explains that one of the key compositional properties of Vera Rubin Ridge is the presence of the iron oxide phase hematite, as determined from orbital observations.

Key questions

“Iron oxides are the primary constituents of rust on Earth, which can exhibit spectacular variations in color,” Salvatore points out, “so identifying and characterizing minor color variations throughout the ridge will be important as the mission continues towards the ridge.”

What is the lateral and vertical distribution of these unique iron oxide phases? Do they vary significantly over the rover’s traverse?

“These questions and many more,” Salvatore concludes, “will continue to be the focus of the [Curiosity] MSL science team for months to come!”

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

Road map

Meanwhile, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory has issued a Curiosity traverse map through Sol 1732.

The map shows the route driven by NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity through the 1732 Martian day, or sol, of the rover’s mission on Mars (June 21, 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 1730 to Sol 1732, Curiosity had driven a straight line distance of about 42.92 feet (13.08 meters), bringing the rover’s total odometry for the mission to 10.43 miles (16.79 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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