Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now performing Sol 2981 tasks.

“We made it,” reports Abigail Fraeman, a planetary geologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “After a quick jaunt across the rrubbly’ unit, Curiosity has reached the ‘Sands of Forvie’ in time for the holidays.”

Dunes! Curiosity Mast Camera Left imagery taken on Sol 2979, December 23, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

This sand sheet is approximately 1,312 feet (400 meters) across and a kilometer wide. “The views looking out over it are spectacularly scenic,” Fraeman adds.

Last Monday, Mars researchers made a mega, 10-sol plan to cover the holiday period, and the drive that took Curiosity to the edge of the sand sheet was in the first sol of that plan.

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera image acquired on Sol 2980, December 23, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

A plan of three more sols will happen at the end of that mega-plan.

“In other words,” Fraeman notes, “the activities we planned today won’t execute on Mars until next Earth calendar year!”

Wheel scuff

The star of the recently scripted three sol plan is a scuff where the rover’s wheel will be used to cut across one of the large ripples in the Sands of Forvie and allow scientists to observe its interior structure.

Also in the plan is collecting Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) observations of two sand targets named “Corryhabbie Hill” and “Mill Loch,” and a small rock named “Fethaland.”

Researchers will additionally acquire Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) and Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) data on a ripple crest at a target named “Braewick Beach” and a different small rock in the workspace named “Ronas Hill.”

Curiosity Mast Camera Left image taken on Sol 2979, December 23, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

These observations will be complemented by several Mastcam and Remote Micro-Imager (RMI) mosaics of the area, including a 360˚ Mastcam mosaic. Observations to monitor the environment and change detection images are also sprinkled throughout the plan, Fraeman points out.

Looking back on 2020

“As 2020 comes to a close, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on everything Curiosity has accomplished this (Earth) year. In March, we climbed the Greenheugh pediment, setting mission records for steepest contact science (26.9˚) and steepest climb (32˚) along the way,” Fraeman reports. “We also set a mission record for largest elevation change on our way back when we descended 11 meters in a single drive, which project scientist Ashwin Vasavada pointed out to me is the height of a three-story building!”

Curiosity took this selfie at a site nicknamed “Mary Anning” where the robot snagged three samples of drilled rock on its way out of the Glen Torridon region, which scientists believe preserves an ancient habitable environment.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS




2020 also saw drilling and analyzing six samples of Martian rock, ranking 2020 with 2016 as “Earth year where Curiosity drilled the most.”

Over the summer, scientists performed special wet chemistry experiments on two of those drilled samples, including the first use of tetramethylammonium hydroxide (TMAH), to better understand their composition.

“Finally, we completed collection of our fourth full meteorological record of Mars when we celebrated our fourth Martian year on the surface,” Fraeman says. “The science team has been working remotely for years, but Curiosity’s engineering team at JPL went fully remote starting in March. I am truly astonished by how much we’ve accomplished operating the rover from our dining room tables and makeshift home offices over the last 41 weeks, and I am so proud of this team.”

“Wishing health and happiness to everyone in this holiday season,” Fraeman concludes, “and we’ll see you again in 2021!”

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