Curiosity Front Hazcam Right B photo taken on Sol 2353, March 20, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech



NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now performing Sol 2353 duties.

Curiosity has made the drive to a rock called “Muir of Ord,” which has a cracked surface, reports Dawn Sumner, a planetary geologist at the University of California Davis in Davis, California. The network of cracks in this Martian rock slab called “Old Soaker” may have formed from the drying of a mud layer more than 3 billion years ago.

“Muir of Ord,” which has a cracked surface. Curiosity Front Hazcam Left B image acquired on Sol 2352, March 19, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech



“The science team is particularly interested in imaging this rock up close because of the fracture patterns. Cracks like these can form from mud drying out when the original sediments were deposited or after exposure of the rock during weathering,” Sumner adds.

If the cracks on Muir of Ord formed when the sediment was first deposited, they tell Mars scientists something about the depositional environment. If they formed during weathering, that informs researchers about the processes on the slopes of Mount Sharp.

Curiosity Mastcam Right photo taken on Sol 2351, March 18, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Planned observations by the rover should help determine which is more likely.

Elemental composition

A recent Curiosity science plan starts with contact science on the “Crieff” target, which is on the top surface of Muir of Ord. The rover’s Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) was slated to perform a short analysis to determine its elemental composition, and the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) will image it at progressively higher magnifications. Doing so allows scientists to study the crack shapes in detail.

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) photo produced on Sol 2352, March 19, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

MAHLI will then image the side of Muir of Ord at a target called “Crossroads” to see how the cracks cross the layering in the rock. Once the contact science is complete, the robot’s Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) will analyze Crieff with a 3×3 grid, and Mastcam will take a mosaic of Muir of Ord.

ChemCam was then set to analyze the targets “James,” “Kilmarnock,” and “Crail” with Mastcam providing context images. Finally, Curiosity will finish up the science at this spot with two more Mastcams of “Aldons Quarry” and “Small Isles.”

New rover drive

The next activity is a roughly 100 foot (30 meters) drive with sequential Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) images to document the large-scale fracture patterns in the outcrop. Once the drive is over, Curiosity’s to-do list includes taking typical post drive images, including both Navcam and Mastcam mosaics of the workspace and the future drive direction.

The second sol of a recently scripted plan includes lots of environmental measurements, Sumner adds. “The morning activities consist of Mastcam imaging of the sun to characterize dust in the atmosphere, a Navcam movie above the horizon to study atmospheric dynamics, and a Navcam movie looking for dust devils.

Curiosity Navcam Right B image taken on Sol 2352, March 19, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Navcam Left B image taken on Sol 2352, March 19, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Afternoon activities include a zenith movie to image clouds and their motion, plus a second set of sun images. Geological activities include an Autonomous Exploration for Gathering Increased Science (AEGIS), that is, use of the novel autonomy software to analyze a rover-selected target as well as a Mastcam 360° panorama.

“We are looking forward to interpreting all this great new data,” Sumner concludes.

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