Shown here is Curiosity’s Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) on the “Brantome” bedrock target. Note the blocky terrain immediately in front of the rover and the basal sulfate-bearing unit layers in the background. Image taken by Front Hazard Avoidance Camera on February 10, 2021, Sol 3027.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

 

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now performing Sol 3028 tasks.

Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam) Remote Micro-Imager (RMI) observations taken on Sol 3027, February 10, 2021.

Lucy Thompson, a planetary geologist at the University of New Brunswick, Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada reports that the robot is on the final approach to the base of the sulfate-bearing unit identified from orbit as a region of interest within Gale crater long before the machinery landed.

“The base of the unit marks a change from the underlying clay-bearing strata (rock layers) that Curiosity has been investigating for the last two years,” Thompson explains.

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 3027, February 10, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Boundary conditions

“Clay minerals are typically associated with wetter environmental conditions and sulfate minerals with drier conditions, so the contact between the two may represent a significant change in environment,” Thompson points out. “It is therefore important that we carefully document the rocks for texture, structure and composition as we transition from the clay-bearing to sulfate-bearing unit, looking for gradual or abrupt changes that may help to elucidate what happened at this boundary.”

Curiosity will first unstow her arm and place the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) on the rock target “Firbeix” for a short analysis to determine the chemistry of the representative bedrock, before taking close-up images with its Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI).

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 3027, February 10, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 3027, February 10, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 3027, February 10, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Sand cracks, fractured terrain

After stowing the arm, the Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument will take a passive spectroscopic observation of the “Feiullade” bedrock target, and take Remote Micro-Imager (RMI) observations of another bedrock target “Fraisse” and the basal layers of the sulfate-bearing unit ahead.

“We will also image the Firbeix, Feiullade and Fraisse targets with Mastcam, and look at some sand cracks and the fractured terrain ahead with Mastcam mosaics,” Thompson adds.

Next drive

Curiosity will then drive carefully over this blocky terrain for a planned distance of roughly 115 feet (35 meters). After the drive has executed, a Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) image will be taken to capture the terrain beneath the rover’s two front wheels.

The second sol of this two-sol plan is dominated by environmental observations to monitor the atmosphere including a ChemCam passive sky observation, a Mastcam basic tau pointed towards the sun, a Navcam suprahorizon movie, dust devil survey and line of sight image, Thompson reports.

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager photo produced on Sol 3027, February 10, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Standard Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS), Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD) and Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN) passive and active measurements will also be acquired.

“Curiosity and everyone on the Mars Science Lab team would also like to welcome Tianwen-1 to Mars. Congratulations to the Chinese space agency for a successful insertion into Mars orbit. It is an exciting time for Mars missions and science,” Thompson concludes.

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