Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera Right B photo taken on Sol 3063, March 19, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now performing Sol 3063 tasks.

Reports Melissa Rice, a planetary geologist at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington, it’s all about getting the right lighting for accentuating the small-scale textures of “Mont Mercou.”

The Curiosity team is planning to photograph the cliff face right before sunset on sol 3063, Rice notes, when the Sun is at its lowest point in the sky. “We hope this new Mastcam mosaic will bring out even more detail.”

Inspection of cliff structure. Mast Camera image taken on Sol 3061, March 17, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

Rice explains that geology photographers want to see all of the bumps, lines, divots and wrinkles, as those features tell the story of how a rock was formed and altered.

The evening photoshoot using the robot’s Mastcan is one part of a two-sol plan (Sols 3062-3063).

Curiosity Chemistry & Camera Remote Micro-Imager (RMI) photo acquired on Sol 3062, March 18, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

Mini-Mercou

The main event is the second analysis of the ‘Nontron’ drill sample by Curiosity’s Chemistry & Mineralogy X-Ray Diffraction/X-Ray Fluorescence Instrument (CheMin), “to refine what we’re learning about the mineralogy of the rocks at the base of Mont Mercou,” Rice adds. “We’ll look some more at Mont Mercou and other regions earlier in the day with Mastcam, and will watch for clouds in the sky at twilight.”

Planning also called for using the robot’s Chemistry and Camera’s (ChemCam) Remote Micro-Imager (RMI), Rice points out, to image a butte called “mini-Mercou” to the east, which is a re-shoot of some previous images that were slightly out of focus.

Curiosity Mast Camera Right images taken on Sol 3062 March 18, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Nontron drill hole taken by Curiosity Mast Camera Right on Sol 3056, March 12, 2021. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Nontron drill sample

What happens next weekend and beyond depends on what the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) Instrument Suite data reveal about the Nontron drill sample, “and whether the team decides to perform more analyses with SAM before getting ready to drive onwards and upwards into the sulfate-bearing units of Mt. Sharp,” Rice reports.

In an earlier report, Susanne Schwenzer, a planetary geologist at The Open University, wondered whether there is nontronite in the Nontron drill hole?

Nontronite is the iron (III) rich member of the smectite group of clay minerals.

“If there is, there will be water released from the sample in characteristic patterns – and with that I mean at specific temperatures while the sample is being heated gradually from its ambient temperature to about 900°C,” Schwenzer stated.

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