Curiosity’s Location on Sol 3011. Distance Driven 15.00 miles (24.15 kilometers)
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now performing Sol 3012 tasks.

Reports Susanne Schwenzer, a planetary geologist at The Open University, Milton Keynes, U.K., the rover is now in a diverse area as it wheels itself across the Mars landscape.

“A close look…reveals all the different textures of rock surfaces, sets of ripples, some big rocks and small pieces of rock accumulated in patches,” Schwenzer says.

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 3011, January 25, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Toe dip

Recent discussions of Mars researchers started with some strategizing as to if to make a short excursion, nicknamed the “toe dip,” in a recent plan or in the weekend plan.

“This “toe dip” is a very short deviation from our current drive route to investigate a nearby unit,” Schwenzer adds, “in fact the contact between the unit Curiosity is standing on top of right now and a neighboring unit. These contacts between two units are always of high interest to any geologist.”

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 3011, January 25, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Succession of processes

At contacts, scientists can learn much about the succession of processes that shaped the geologic environment at the time the sediments were laid down, and well before they became rocks, Schwenzer notes. “Or, in fact, well before at least the upper one of them became a rock, because at a contact, a geologist can find out, if the upper unit was deposited before or after the lower unit became a hard rock.”

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera Left B image acquired on Sol 3011, January 24, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“And of course, we can see, if the laying-down of the upper unit had any influence on the lower unit, or if the upper unit includes pieces of the lower unit, or if the upper unit sealed off some water flow from below and caused mineral precipitation – just to name a few of the things geologist look out for at a contact between two units,” Schwenzer adds.

A decision has been made to drive to the area for the toe dip tosol.

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager photo produced on Sol 3011, January 24, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Workspace survey

The robot’s Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) and Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) are investigating a target “Champagnac,” which is a large piece of rock in the multitude of options in the rover’s workspace, which had made itself interesting by its darker color, which could indicate a change in chemistry from the usual-colored rocks scientists have been investigating lately.

The rover’s Mastcam and the Navcams were very busy, with the usual workspace survey and post drive imaging to prepare the next sol.

Atmospheric dust load

On the science activities, Mastcam will investigate the area around a target “Marnac” by executing an investigation in multispectral mode with added stereo images, Schwenzer points out, as well as perform a mosaic at the area the rover will approach for the ‘toe dip’ to the contact with the nearby unit with a set of seven images.

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager photo produced on Sol 3011, January 24, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

“Of course, Curiosity is doing her regular atmospheric monitoring. For this, she will image across the floor of Gale crater to see how much dust there is in the air between the rover and the distant crater rim, and she’ll image toward the sun to measure the dust load in the atmospheric column. In addition, she will do image sequences to survey for clouds, dust devils, and dust lofting over the ‘Sands of Forvie,’” Schwenzer reports.

Other regular rover operations include the Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) which takes its usual image after the drive, and Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN), which surveys for water in passive mode.

“Another busy sol on Mars – and off she goes to dip a toe onto the contact nearby,” Schwenzer concludes.

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