Past Martian sunset image from 2015.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/Texas A&M University


Reliable commands to NASA’s Curiosity rover has now ended. The robot on the Red Planet has disappeared behind the Sun for about three weeks.

This made planning “feel as if the Sun were setting on our normally active rover activities,” explains Michelle Minitti, a planetary geologist for Framework in Silver Spring, Maryland.

Napping on the job

The rover’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS), and Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) have been safely stored for the “conjunction nap,” Minitti adds. Curiosity’s Mastcam and Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) collected a few last bits of science data for the rover’s geology group.

Mastcam acquired mosaics of the “Vera Rubin Ridge” above and in front of the rover, and of the workspace in front of the Mars machinery Minitti explains. “Both mosaics not only inform us about the rocks around us, they will be used to plan activities right after we return from conjunction.”

Curiosity Front Hazcam Right B Sol 1758 July 17, 2017
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Wind-induced changes

Mastcam and MARDI were slated to acquire images on sols 1757 and 1758 to look for wind-induced changes in the sands around the rover. “These change detection images complement similar change detection images acquired at previous sand stops,” Minitti notes, “revealing the dynamic nature of Mars.”

After imaging on Sol 1758, the plan called for Mastcam to home her focus mechanisms and settle in for a well-deserved break.

Jam packed plan

The environmental group had a jam packed plan, acquiring three long Navcam movies seeking dust devils, and Mastcam and Navcam images monitoring the sky for clouds and dust load.

“The relative lack of other activities in the plan allowed these activities to be spaced out over early morning, mid-day and late afternoon times, giving the science team insight into how time of day influences atmospheric phenomena,” Minitti points out.

The rover’s Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN) will acquire six long (at least one hour) passive observations, and Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD) and the Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) are to continue their steady monitoring of the Gale Crater environment.

DAN, RAD and REMS are the only three science instruments that will remain active over conjunction.

Curiosity Mastcam Left Sol 1757 July 16, 2017
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS


Drill issue continues

“In addition to squeezing in science observations, Curiosity will conduct a suite of tests with the drill, another step in the efforts of the engineers to bring the drill back to full functionality,” Minitti concludes. “These tests will give the engineers just as much data to chew on over conjunction as the science team! See you on the flip side, trusty rover!”

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