Curiosity rover approaching the “Sands of Forvie” sand sheet that looms just off in the distance of the image. Photo taken by Left Navigation Camera on Sol 2977, December 20, 2020
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has just begun Sol 2980 operations.

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 2979, December 23, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Reports Michelle Minitti, a planetary geologist at Framework in Silver Spring, Maryland, a newly devised plan covers the ten sols that span the holidays here on Earth, “enabling Curiosity to keep exploring Gale crater while the scientists and engineers that guide her every move get a well-deserved break.”

Most of those sols contain only Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) weather and Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD) monitoring activities, as these regular measurements are easy to plan and relatively low risk to the robot operating for many sols without the team checking in regularly.

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera photo taken on Sol 2979, December 23, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Drive to the edge

“Three of the sols of the holiday contain more extensive activities, including a drive to the edge of the ‘Sands of Forvie’ sand sheet that Curiosity will study more extensively to start the new year,” Minitti explains. “So while the sand and ripples that cap the Sands of Forvie evoke a beach vacation, the holiday will not be all relaxation for Curiosity. At least she will have a lovely view.”

The first sol of the plan starts with surveying the bedrock and sand in the rover workspace with both Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) and Mastcam.

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera Left B image acquired on Sol 2979, December 23, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

ChemCam will shoot representative bedrock at “Buness,” bedrock and a prominent white vein at “Aithsting,” and a small sand ripple among the bedrock blocks at “Trodra.”

“These analyses will help us keep track of how rock and sand chemistry change as we approach the ‘Sands of Forvie’ sand sheet that looms just off in the distance,” Minitti adds.

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera photo taken on Sol 2979, December 23, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Bedrock features

Mastcam will acquire a large mosaic covering the blocks around the rover to get a detailed look at the structures and alteration features in the bedrock, in addition to imaging two other bedrock blocks, “Quothquan” and “Elishader,” that each exhibit interesting textures.

ChemCam then turns its eyes upward to acquire a long distance Remote Micro-Imager RMI) mosaic of sulfate-bearing layers found within the portion of Mount Sharp that makes up the next major phase of Curiosity’s exploration.

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera photo taken on Sol 2979, December 23, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Wind-induced changes

“Next, Curiosity will drive toward the Sands of Forvie, where she will spend the majority of the holiday. ChemCam will acquire two autonomously-targeted rasters off to the starboard side of the rover,” Minitti adds.

The robot’s Mastcam and Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) will watch for wind-induced changes in the sand around and under the rover, respectively.

Curiosity’s Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN) experiment will search for hydrogen in the subsurface under the rover in active mode right after the drive and in passive mode later during its beach stay.

Clouds overhead

The rest of the observations Curiosity acquires will be pointed skyward.

Both early morning and near midday, Navcam and Mastcam will measure the amount of dust in the atmosphere, and Navcam will shoot dust devil movies.

Early and mid-morning, Navcam will acquire movies to look for clouds overhead. ChemCam will collect a passive spectral observation of the atmosphere, and the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) will analyze atmospheric argon, Minitti concludes.

 

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