This mosaic taken by NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover looks uphill at Mount Sharp, which Curiosity has been climbing. Spanning the center of the image is an area with clay-bearing rocks that scientists are eager to explore; it could shed additional light on the role of water in creating Mount Sharp.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover is just starting to perform Sol 2006 science tasks.

“Squarely in the red,” explains Christopher Edwards, a planetary geologist from Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, saying the rover in a special spot.

Curiosity Mastcam Left image taken on Sol 2004, March 27, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Scouting for hematite

After the robot completed a drive of nearly 180 (55 meters) drive, “Curiosity found itself sitting right in the middle of the strongest spectral detection of hematite identified along its path up Mt. Sharp,” reports Edwards.

“This strong spectral signature” is viewed both from orbit, where it was originally identified in the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer data, and at ground level in the rover’s Mastcam multispectral data, Edwards observes.

Curiosity Mastcam Left photo acquired on Sol 2004, March 27, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Current parking lot

“While Curiosity has definitely visited some areas that have the spectral fingerprint of hematite in previous sols, this is by far the best example we’ve seen over the mission,” Edwards adds. The rover science team is still trying to figure out “how this mineral formed and why we’re finding it where we are.”

Curiosity’s current parking spot will likely prove key to unraveling the geologic history of the Vera Rubin Ridge, when combined with other data acquired in Gale Crater, Edwards points out.

The rover has been busy and the science team now has a fabulous workspace to examine, Edwards notes.

Unique experiment

Two contact science targets (“Stranraer” and “Murchison”) were chosen to help examine the variability in chemistry related to different targets identified in color Mastcam data.

Curiosity ChemCam Remote Micro-Imager photo taken on Sol 2004, March 27, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

“For example, the Murchison target appears to be darker red than some of the other rocks like the Stranraer target. A unique experiment with Mastcam was designed to characterize the light scattering properties of the unit by taking 7 different observations over the course of the day,” Edwards reports.

Lastly, Curiosity’s Mastcam is slated to observe how the same spot on the surface changes its reflectivity properties with changing illumination, Edwards concludes, with the goal of providing insights into the nature of the hematite itself.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona


New road map

Meanwhile, a new traverse map for Curiosity’s whereabouts has been issued, through Sol 2004.

The map shows the route driven by NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity through the 2004 Martian day, or sol, of the rover’s mission on Mars (March 28, 2018).

Numbering of the dots along the line indicate the sol number of each drive. North is up. The scale bar is 1 kilometer (~0.62 mile).

From Sol 2003 to Sol 2004, Curiosity had driven a straight line distance of about 178.15 feet (54.30 meters), bringing the rover’s total odometry for the mission to 11.51 miles (18.53 kilometers).

The base image from the map is from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment Camera (HiRISE) in NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

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