Dunes in sight! Curiosity Navcam Left B image taken on November 20, 2015, Sol 1169. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Dunes in sight! Curiosity Navcam Left B image taken on November 20, 2015, Sol 1169.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Last week on Mars, NASA’s Curiosity rover has been wheeling ever-closer to the Bagnold Dunes – characterizing the bedrock and sand along the way.

Lauren Edgar of the USGS Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona reports that the Bagnold Dunes “are tantalizingly close.”

On Sol 1167, Curiosity drove 128 feet (39 meters) “and the dunes are starting to look pretty big,” Edgar adds.

Curiosity also carried out a successful Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) methane experiment – one Mars year after the previous high detections of methane.

The rover also made a drive of 120 feet (36.5 meters) on Sol 1168, Edgar says.

This view taken from orbit around Mars shows the sand dune that will be the first to be visited by NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover along its route to higher layers of Mount Sharp. The view covers an area about 1,250 feet (about 380 meters) across, showing a site called “Dune 1” in the “Bagnold Dunes” dune field. The image was taken by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The image is in false color, combining information recorded by HiRISE in red, blue-green and infrared frequencies of light. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

This view taken from orbit around Mars shows the sand dune that will be the first to be visited by NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover along its route to higher layers of Mount Sharp.
The view covers an area about 1,250 feet (about 380 meters) across, showing a site called “Dune 1” in the “Bagnold Dunes” dune field.
The image was taken by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The image is in false color, combining information recorded by HiRISE in red, blue-green and infrared frequencies of light.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

Active dunes

The Bagnold Dunes skirt the northwestern flank of Mount Sharp.

As noted in a Jet Propulsion Laboratory release:

“No Mars rover has previously visited a sand dune, as opposed to smaller sand ripples or drifts. One dune Curiosity will investigate is as tall as a two-story building and as broad as a football field. The Bagnold Dunes are active: Images from orbit indicate some of them are migrating as much as about 3 feet (1 meter) per Earth year. No active dunes have been visited anywhere in the solar system besides Earth.”

Weekend plan

There’s a weekend three-Sol plan that starts with a number of environmental monitoring activities to assess atmospheric opacity and composition.

The second sol includes several Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam) and Mastcam activities to study the local bedrock and prepare for the upcoming dune investigation.

Edgar notes that use of Curiosity’s Navcam is on tap to search for dust devils and monitor clouds and wind, and to monitor the deck of the rover to look for dust and sand accumulation.

Curiosity’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) acquired this image on November 18, 2015, Sol 1167. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) acquired this image on November 18, 2015, Sol 1167.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

On the third Sol, the rover is to drive and take standard post-drive imaging.

The plan also includes SAM and Chemistry & Mineralogy X-Ray Diffraction/X-Ray Fluorescence Instrument (CheMin) activities to prepare for future sampling.

As always, conduct of planned rover activities are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.

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