Curiosity’s location as of Sol 3345. Distance driven 16.71 miles/26.89 kilometers.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona


NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover at Gale Crater has just entered Sol 3348.

Curiosity has entered a new mapping quadrant, Roraima, viewing flat-topped hills and some steep slopes.

“As we head southward, we will likely be parking near some of these tall hills and cliffs in order to get close-up images,” reports Ashley Stroupe, a mission operations engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 3347, January 5, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“Parking near such tall terrain can sometimes block our view of the orbiters if they are low in the sky, impacting the amount of data we may receive,” Stroupe adds. “We saw this kind of an effect when we parked near the tall steep cliff of Maria Gordon notch, where there was a significant reduction of data on one of our communication passes with the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO). We will take this into account to make sure we will still get down the data we need for planning.”

Looking back, Curiosity can see all the way to the Torridon quadrant and see Mars’ “Scottish highlands” with the attached beautiful view of the Maria Gordon notch; you can also see the rim of Gale crater in the distance.
This image was taken by Left Navigation Camera on Sol 3345.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.



A recent plan had the robot perform a “touch-and-go” which includes some contact science, targeted science, and a drive.

“Our contact science target, “Verde,” is a small piece of bedrock with nodules in it, similar to many of the other rocks we have investigated recently,” Stroupe points out. “The science team will be able to compare its composition with those prior targets to continue to build up a picture of the changing geology and chemistry preserved in the region. The rover planners will then leave the arm stowed again in preparation for driving and to leave a clear view of the target for the cameras.”

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Right B Camera image acquired on Sol 3347, January 5, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The targeted science in the plan also investigates the nodules by looking at “Maurak,” another nearby target, with Curiosity’s Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) and its Mastcam.

Distant butte

ChemCam was also to take Remote Micro-Imager (RMI) images of a distant butte named “Mirador,” both its top and its face, which has an interesting and significant textural transition, Stroupe points out.

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 3347, January 5, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Once ready to drive away, Curiosity will head nearly 50 feet (roughly 15 meters) southward.

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 3347, January 5, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“Due to some significant rocks and the uphill climb ahead of us, this is only as far as the rover planners can see. Even if that distance, the rover is going to need to wind around to skirt some more significant rocks so that we don’t add damage to the wheels,” Stroupe reports. “The drive should leave us parked where we have a better view of the road ahead, as well as leave bedrock within the rover’s workspace for the next plan.”

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera photo taken on Sol 3347, January 5, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


Engineering maintenance

After the drive, Curiosity will do some evening environmental observations, Navcam suprahorizon and zenith movies, to look at the atmosphere. Overnight, the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) Instrument Suite will be doing an engineering maintenance activity to check out the optics on the tunable laser spectrometer (TLS).

On the second sol of the plan, Sol 3348, after the drive, Curiosity will do some untargeted science using AEGIS (Autonomous Exploration for Gathering Increased Science) – a software suite that permits the rover to autonomously detect and prioritize targets.

Also on tap is a long Navcam dust devil movie, Stroupe concludes.

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