Image shows the current Curiosity workspace. This is a block of more coherent bedrock, surrounded by rubbly terrain, with lots of small rocks, pebbles and sand.
Photo acquired by Curiosity Front Hazcam Left A on Sol 2318, February 13, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now performing Sol 2322 duties.

“Our weekend plan brought us to a block of coherent rock, a treat after spending many workspaces in more broken up and rubbly areas,” reports Catherine O’Connell-Cooper, a planetary geologist at the University of New Brunswick; Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada.

Mars researchers have planned a 3-sol plan, with contact science, imaging, environmental monitoring and a drive.

Curiosity ChemCam Remote Micro-Imager photo acquired on Sol 2320, February 14, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

Midland Valley

The Geology (GEO) theme group uplinked lots of contact science so they are ready to leave and drive to the next coherent block that has been identified in the distance – a target known as “Midland Valley.”

“Before leaving however, we planned contact science on “Ladder Hills,” a beautiful example of laminated bedrock,” O’Connell-Cooper notes.

Curiosity ChemCam Remote Micro-Imager photo taken on Sol 2320, February 14, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

Curiosity’s Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) will be used to determine the chemistry, to compare it to our other targets in this workspace “Gannet” and “Curlew.”

Also, the rover’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) will take images of the laminations within Ladder Hills from two different angles – straight downwards onto the rock surface (the spot where APXS will also analyze), and from an oblique angle, ChemCam will acquire active LIBS (laser) analysis of Ladder Hills, in addition to analysis of “Fyvie,” a large pebble for comparison with bedrock targets, O’Connell-Cooper adds.

Curiosity Navcam Left A image taken on Sol 2320, February 14, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Laminations in the workspace

The current plan features lots of Mastcam imagery.

Both Fyvie and the post-drive Autonomous Exploration for Gathering Increased Science (AEGIS) target will be imaged, in support of Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) science activities. Two mosaics will focus on the laminations in the workspace, in the targets Ladder Hills, “Ladyburn” and “Loch Gelly.”

Multispectral documentation will be taken of the Curlew target, which was recently brushed.

Scuffing up sand

“Midway to our next stop at Midland Valley, we will stop at a small ripple field. Using Mastcam, we will image the undisturbed sand, before scuffing using the right wheel, back away a little, and then take another Mastcam image of the disturbed sand,” O’Connell-Cooper explains. “These images will be used to further characterize the physical properties of the sand in this area.”

Then the robot’s drive resumes, hopefully ending on bedrock for the weekend plan.

Curiosity Navcam Left A image taken on Sol 2319, February 13, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Post-drive duties

“Following the drive, APXS will do overnight measurements of argon in the atmosphere, as part of a long range experiment looking at changes in argon abundances and seasonal variations,” O’Connell-Cooper reports.

In parallel to the very full GEO plan, the Environmental (ENV) theme group also has a very full plan. The main ENV activity is a ChemCam Passive Sky observation, which measures the column abundance of water vapor, oxygen, water ice and dust in the atmosphere, and also gives researchers some idea of dust and water ice particle sizes.

“This is particularly interesting as we just had some regional dust storm activity on Mars, so there’s still quite a lot of dust in the atmosphere above the rover,” O’Connell-Cooper says. “For this reason, we’re also very interested in the two Mastcam atmospheric opacity measurements in this plan, which will tell us how much dust is still up there; recently, opacities have been trending down.”

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) photo produced on Sol 2320, February 14, 2019. MAHLI is on the turret at the end of the rover’s robotic arm.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Looking at clouds

ENV has planned some Navcam movies, as part of an ongoing campaign to examine martian clouds, their properties and abundances.

The “zenith” movie looks directly upwards to look at clouds and their direction, whilst the “suprahorizon” movie is targeted in a more horizontal direction, looking at clouds and variations in optical depth in the atmosphere above the north rim of the crater.

Movies and surveys

O’Connell-Cooper adds that ENV also planned Navcam and Mastcam “dust devil” movies and surveys, which measure the number, location, and characteristics of dust-filled convective vortices, which in turn tells us about surface heating, convection, and winds near the surface.

“These observations are targeted lower than the suprahorizon movies, to search for dust devils across the crater floor on the slopes of Mount Sharp,” O’Connell-Cooper notes. “Excitingly, this plan sees the very first use of Mastcam to take a dust devil movie, which will give color images and better resolution — although over a smaller region) — than Navcam.”

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