Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera Right B image taken on Sol 2924, October 27, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

 

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now performing Sol 2924 tasks.

Lucy Thompson, a planetary geologist at University of New Brunswick; Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada, reports that the rover – after a weekend drive – is looking at new scenery – after sitting in one parking spot for the last three months.

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera photo taken on Sol 2924, October 27, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The robot’s drive executed as planned, placing Curiosity roughly 10-13 feet (3-4 meters) from the “Maybole” outcrop.

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera photo taken on Sol 2924, October 27, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Unusual ledges

“The geologists have been interested in getting closer to this rock exposure for some time, as it represents one of a series of unusual ledges present in this area,” Thompson explains. “Do these ledges represent a slightly different rock type to the more typical low relief terrain? Are they more cemented and harder than surrounding rocks? Might they provide clues as to what is happening as we get closer to the sulfate unit, that we are on route to?”

Curiosity Right Navigation Camera image acquired on Sol 2924, October 27, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

To better observe the textures such as bedding, laminations, any cross laminations, veins or resistant features, Thompson adds that the team planned a large Mastcam stereo mosaic of Maybole. And to get a head start on what the chemistry of these rocks is, the robot’s Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) will shoot the target “Hollandstoun” on the right front face of the outcrop “in an area that we hope to target with our contact science instruments in the next plan.”

Curiosity Mast Camera Left image taken on Sol 2923, October 26, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Balancing science objectives

Thompson points out that much of the discussion during planning revolved around trying to pick the best area on the Maybole outcrop to drive to in order to examine the rocks with Curiosity’s contact science instruments on the end of the rover’s robotic arm.

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera photo taken on Sol 2924, October 27, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

There is need to balance science objectives with what can be achieved by the rover with respect to driving close to the rock face, safely unstowing the arm, and being able to place the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) and the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) close to, or on the rock face.

“Luckily, the area that the team is most interested in from a scientific perspective appears to be reachable by the rover,” Thompson adds.

Prime position

A newly planned drive should place the robot in a prime position to interrogate the Maybole rocks for fine-scale textures with MAHLI, and chemistry with APXS, in the next plan.

To provide another hint at the chemistry of the Maybole rocks prior to placing APXS, a post-drive ChemCam Autonomous Exploration for Gathering Increased Science (AEGIS) observation will be acquired.

A planned post-drive Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) image should also give scientists a sense of what the ground beneath the rover’s wheels looks like.

Curiosity Mast Camera Left image taken on Sol 2923, October 26, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Geochemical secrets

The environmental group has also been busy planning observations of the atmosphere. These will include a ChemCam passive sky observation and a Navcam dust devil survey and line of sight observation.

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

I am excited at the prospect of putting the APXS down on these interesting rocks at Maybole,” Thompson concludes, “and seeing what geochemical secrets they yield!”

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