Curiosity Front Hazcam Right A image taken on Sol 2294, January 19, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is wrapping up Sol 2294 duties.

But reports Melissa Rice, a planetary geologist at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington: “Sometimes the best laid plans of rovers go astray.”

After wrapping up looks at the Rock Hall drill site, the plan was for Curiosity to start driving towards the clay-bearing unit — the rover’s first drive in about a month — starting with a series of small bumps so that the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) could take images of the full outer circumference of the robot’s wheels.

Curiosity Navcam Right A photo acquired on Sol 2293, January 18, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Arm fault

However, an arm fault prevented yesterday’s drive from executing, and Curiosity remained parked in front of Rock Hall, Rice explains. “The good news is that we get one more day to explore this spot.”

Curiosity ChemCam Remote Micro-Imager photo taken on Sol 2294, January 19, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

Before a reattempt of the MAHLI wheel imaging and the drive, Curiosity will use the Dust Removal Tool to brush dust off of the target Bothwell, image it with MAHLI, and collect chemical data overnight with the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS).



Bonus science

The rover’s Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) will explore a few more targets as well, including Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectrometer (LIBS) observations of the bedrock targets “St Ninians Tombolo,” “Stac Pollaidh” and “St Cyrus 3,” and a long-distance Remote Micro-Imager (RMI) mosaic of a butte of layered sulfate-bearing rocks towards Mount Sharp.

Wheel inspection 2019: Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) photo produced on Sol 2291, January 16, 2019. MAHLI is located on the turret at the end of the rover’s robotic arm.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) photo produced on Sol 2291, January 16, 2019.

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) photo produced on Sol 2291, January 16, 2019.

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) photo produced on Sol 2291, January 16, 2019.

“After this bonus science, Curiosity will make the first of several eastward drives to exit the Vera Rubin Ridge and enter the clay-bearing unit,” Rice notes. “When we return from the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday next week, hopefully we’ll be greeted with images of a brand-new workspace to explore!”

Productive stay

Michelle Minitti, a planetary geologist at Framework in Silver Spring, Maryland, also reports it has been a productive stay at the “Rock Hall” drill site.

The number and diversity of analyses performed on the drill target and drilled sample itself – mineralogy from the robot’s Chemistry & Mineralogy X-Ray Diffraction/X-Ray Fluorescence Instrument (CheMin), organics and volatiles from the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) Instrument Suite, chemistry and spectral characteristics of the bedrock, drill tailings and excess drilled sample from APXS, ChemCam, and Mastcam, “speak to the importance of samples we so painstakingly extract from Mars,” Minitti adds.

Clay-bearing unit

Curiosity is ready to drive toward the clay-bearing unit.

“This unit, which lies between us and the next set of mesas further up Mount Sharp, exhibits a strong spectral signature of clay minerals from orbit. As clays are associated with the action of water and, typically, that of neutral pH [a measure of acidity and alkalinity] waters, we are keen to learn about the nature and origins of the clays and the rocks that host them,” Minitti points out.

The plan calls for a series of bumps that will scoot Curiosity forward 6.5 feet (2 meters) as MAHLI images of the wheels are taken.

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) photo produced on Sol 2291, January 16, 2019.


“The process, called full MAHLI wheel imaging, involves poising MAHLI obliquely above the wheels to image them, stowing the arm, bumping forward a few tens of centimeters to bring the next segment of wheel into view, unstowing the arm, and imaging the wheels once again,” Minitti says.

It takes four small bumps to fully image the outer circumference of the wheels.

The first set of wheel images was acquired by MAHLI on Sol 2291. “Even with the bumps and tears visible in this image,” Minitti reports, “the wheels are still capable of carrying us for many more kilometers across the clay-bearing unit and up Mount Sharp!”

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) photo produced on Sol 2291, January 16, 2019.

New workspace

As Curiosity bumps forward to take the wheel images, also on tap is acquiring a Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) image at each stop, resulting in a tightly overlapping set of MARDI images that can be combined to create a digital elevation model of the terrain under the rover.

“The final stop will place the Rock Hall drill hole in the MARDI field of view, giving MARDI our last look at Rock Hall,” Minitti adds.

After the drive, Curiosity is to image a new workspace in about a month, acquire a ChemCam raster using the Autonomous Exploration for Gathering Increased Science (AEGIS) targeting system, and acquire a host of Navcam and Mastcam images and movies to monitor changes in the atmosphere caused by the regional dust storm.

Minitti concludes: “Perhaps Curiosity will have another up-close-and-personal encounter with a dust devil!”

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