Curiosity Front Hazcam Left B image taken on Sol 2410, May 18, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now performing Sol 2410 duties.

The robot has used its front wheel to dig a small trench in a ripple at the ripple field named “Rigg,” reports Ryan Anderson, a planetary geologist at the U.S. Geological Survey in Flagstaff, Arizona.

The plan then called for focus on what that scuff uncovered.

Curiosity Front Hazcam Left B photo taken on Sol 2409, May 17, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Active sand

“There is a lot that we can learn,” Anderson adds, “from these patches of active sand that we occasionally encounter as we explore Gale crater!”

“One of the big questions is where the sand comes from: by measuring the chemical composition of the sand at Rigg we can compare with sand we have seen earlier in the mission to see if the chemistry is different enough that there must be different sources. We also can compare the grain sizes in different parts of the ripple to get a better understanding of how the wind sorts sand grains under martian gravity and atmospheric pressure,” Anderson explains.

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) photo produced on Sol 2409, May 17, 2019. MAHLI is located on the turret at the end of the rover’s robotic arm.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS




Similarities or differences?

Studying the shape of the ripples in detail also helps scientists compare modern bedforms (the generic term for dune-like features of all sizes) to the ancient ones seen preserved in the rocks, which lets researchers infer similarities or differences in the environment.

“And of course, looking closely at these wind-blown sand features lets us get a better handle on what the winds are like in Gale crater right now,” Anderson reports.

Curiosity Mastcam Left image acquired on Sol 2408, May 16, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Blocky outcrop

The sol 2409 plan called for the robot to make a Mastcam multispectral observation of the scuff, followed by Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) of the floor (“Ben Cruachan”) and wall (“Ben Lomond”) of the scuff, as well as the undisturbed crest of the ripple (“Ben Suardal”).

That plan also calls for use of Navcam to look for dust devils before starting contact science.

Contact science observations start with Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) images of targets on the ripple crest (“Dunoon”), trough (“Gairsay”), and a secondary ripple (“Nairn”).

Curiosity Mastcam Left image acquired on Sol 2408, May 16, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity’s Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) will then quickly measure the chemistry of Dunoon before settling in for an overnight measurement of Gairsay.

“We plan to keep playing in the sand at Rigg for another couple of sols before moving on toward a blocky outcrop to the northeast,” Anderson concludes.

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