Curiosity Navcam Right B image taken on Sol 1814, September 13, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is currently in Sol 1816, scouting about on Vera Rubin Ridge.

Planning for the rover’s science duties “was a bit like reading a great mystery novel,” reports Abigail Fraeman, a planetary geologist at NASA/JPL in Pasadena, California. “There were several twists and turns along the way, but we eventually reached an exciting ending that will reveal ‘Whodunit?’…or more accurately, what geologic forces had done to shape this landscape billions of years ago.”

Curiosity Front Hazcam Right B photo acquired on Sol 1815, September 13, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Raised broken rocks

A recent drive of the robot was successful, placed it in front of one of many meter-scale factures that criss-cross this area.

“These fractures are visible in high-resolution orbital images, and on the ground are surrounded by raised broken rocks that appear to be slightly more resistant to erosion than their surroundings,” Fraeman adds. “We are interested in understanding how these fractures formed, if they were conduits for ancient water, and why the rocks on their edges are raised.”

Curiosity Mastcam Left photo taken on Sol 1814, September 13, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Should I stay, should I go?

Curiosity researchers made a quick decision that rocks being observed were interesting enough to warrant staying for another couple of days to collect good contact science targets, rather than the single touch-and-go as had originally been planned, Fraeman notes.

The decision to stay had the geology theme group working to figure out what targets would be ideal for collecting Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) and Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) data.

Curiosity Mastcam Left photo acquired on Sol 1814, September 13, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

“This entailed a lot of back and forth between the scientists and rover planners to understand which targets were reachable in the somewhat broken up workspace in front of us,” Fraeman points out, “and which were simply too far away or fragmented to access.”

Standoff images

After some work, team members found a great raised rock to examine with APXS and MAHLI, given the target name of “Schoppee.”

Curiosity ChemCam Remote Micro-Imager photo taken on Sol 1814, September 13, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

The plan called for taking 25 centimeter MAHLI standoff images of several other locations near the raised rim of the fracture to provide additional information about targets that can be studied in the weekend plan.

3D model

“Forgoing the drive also allowed us to have time for some morning remote sensing before the contact science,” Fraeman says. During that time, on tap are Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) observations of targets “Elwell,” “Bragdon,” and “Graffam,” as well as corresponding Mastcam documentation imaging.

Curiosity Rear Hazcam Left B image acquired on Sol 1815, September 13, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Additional remote sensing is also on the checklist, including a ChemCam Remote Micro-Imager (RMI) Z-stack observation (used to make a 3D model) of fine laminations in the target “Phoney Island,” a corresponding Mastcam observation, and many environmental measurements in afternoon and early morning hours, Fraeman concludes.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona



New roadmap

A new traverse map has been issued by JPL, showing the ground track of the robot since landing in August 2012.

The new map shows the route driven by Curiosity through the 1814 Martian day, or sol, of the rover’s mission on Mars, as of September 13, 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 1812 to Sol 1814, Curiosity had driven a straight line distance of about 30.77 feet (9.38 meters), bringing the rover’s total odometry for the mission to 10.80 miles (17.38 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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