Curiosity position as of Sol 3047. Distance driven to date: 15.44 miles (24.85 kilometers).
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now performing Sol 3049 tasks.

“Curiosity continues her climb up toward the lovely cliff of ‘Mont Mercou,'” reports Michelle Minitti, a planetary geologist at Framework in Silver Spring, Maryland.

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera photo acquired on Sol 3047, March 3, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The drive could be the start of the sulfate-rich layers of “Mount Sharp” that the science team have had their eyes on since Gale crater was identified as the robot’s landing site.

Curiosity rover’s right middle and rear wheels had turned up on some of the lumpier rocks that dot the current terrain (one of which you can just spy under the right middle wheel in the above image)(one of which you can just spy under the right middle wheel in this image taken by Left Navigation Camera taken on Sol 3047.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Ankle turn

“Mountain climbing has its risks, though, and we found that Curiosity had suffered a bit of an ankle turn – as much as a rover has ankles – at the end of the Sol 3047 drive,” Minitti explains.

“The right middle and rear wheels had turned up on some of the lumpier rocks that dot the current terrain, putting us in a not-quite-stable position to unstow the arm,” Minitti adds.

That position has impacted use of the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) and the rover’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) to make close-in study of targets “Valojoulx” and “Marval.”

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera Right B image taken on Sol 3048, March 3, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The former represents a flatter part of the bedrock in the workspace, and the latter a lumpier, more resistant part of the bedrock, Minitti notes. “The awkward placement of the wheels did not prevent all the non-arm instruments from keeping busy, however!”

Standing proud

Scientists will assess the spectral character of Marval with both Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) passive and Mastcam multispectral observations.

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera photo acquired on Sol 3047, March 3, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“We will acquire another ChemCam passive on “Chaleix,” a block that is standing proud among the lower-lying bedrock patches around us, thus revealing a vertical face ripe for observation. That vertical face also made an irresistible target for a small Mastcam stereo mosaic,” Minitti explains.

The dramatic buttes above Mont Mercou will be covered by two ChemCam Remote Micro-Imager (RMI) mosaics.

Wheel wiggling

“Right before the rover drivers wiggle our wheels off the troublesome rocks of today’s parking space, Mastcam will acquire a large stereo mosaic of Mont Mercoum,” Minitti adds. “Then, for an encore, Mastcam will acquire another stereo mosaic of Mont Mercou a few meters into our drive to our weekend parking spot. The hope is that not only will each individual stereo mosaic give us a better picture of the structure within the cliff, but the mosaics together can be combined into their own stereo view, adding different perspective and detail of the cliff.”

Also slated is using the robot’s Mastcam to image the sky as well as rocks. On both evenings of the plan, Mastcam will image a swath of sky above Mount Sharp to look for clouds.

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera Right B photo taken on Sol 3047, March 2, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

 

Steady watch

“Not to be outdone, Navcam will also image the sky to look for clouds and dust devils multiple times in the plan,” Minitti says.

Curiosity’s Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD) and the Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) are to keep steady watch on the environment throughout the plan.

The Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN) will ping the ground in back of the rover before, during and after a drive, Minitti concludes, keeping steady watch on the state of hydrogen in the subsurface. “Here’s hoping Curiosity lands in a slightly less bumpy spot for the weekend!”

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