Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera Right B image acquired on Sol 2868, August 30, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now performing Sol 2869 duties.

“Curiosity has been in the area of the ‘Mary Anning’ targets for a while now, and that’s for a very good reason,” reports Susanne Schwenzer, a planetary geologist at The Open University, Milton Keynes, United Kingdom. The rover came to find the ideal rocks for a very special experiment using the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) Instrument Suite.

The Sample Analysis at Mars tool is called SAM. SAM is made up of three different instruments that search for and measure organic chemicals and light elements that are important ingredients potentially associated with life.
Credit: Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument, at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., will analyze samples of material collected by the rover’s arm.

“First, we confirmed we had the rock-type we desired. Appearance can always deceive (and yes, that’s not just for rocks, we all know that!),” Schwenzer adds. Chemistry, however, doesn’t lie, and the robot’s Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) and its Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) have confirmed that what’s under the drill is what scientist’s came for.

Ready to go

“SAM has confirmed that all procedures are now ready to go. Thus, the big headline today is: We are ‘go’ for drilling the “Mary Anning 3” target,” Schwenzer says, and to perform the SAM wet chemistry experiment later this week.

Curiosity Mast Camera Right image taken on Sol 2867, August 30, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

“As it’s [a] well-tested routine for our drill sequence by now, the first thing to do after the drilling is to image the drill hole. ChemCam will perform a passive spectral investigation, and Mastcam will do a multispectral measurement on the drill fines. While at it, Mastcam also takes a small 5×1 mosaic of the nearby target “Upper Ollach” again. We are taking advantage of the fact that – for the drilling – we are in the same place for several sols in a row,” Schwenzer adds.

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager photo produced on Sol 2867, August 30, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Wind regime

Using repeated imaging of this target, scientists can detect changes that occur over time, and this way judge the current wind regime. Dust devils are one way to watch out for wind, looking at how grains shift over time is another.

“While we are here,” Schwenzer continues, “we are of course also looking for all the small features we can spot in our surroundings. Tiny dark layers in a nearby target ‘Ayton’ caught our eye a few sols ago and were investigated by ChemCam,”

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager photo produced on Sol 2867, August 30, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The robot’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) is looking at them this sol. “We are also investigating their chemistry further, as ChemCam will add more measurements on those features to improve measurement statistics and thus understand better what the dark nodular features are made of,” Schwenzer points out.

Will looks deceive?

ChemCam targets for that are “Toab” and another raster on the Ayton block. ChemCam is also looking at the target “Sartle,” Schwenzer says, which has a bit more greyish appearance and some white material – suspected calcium sulfate, at least if it is what it looks like. “Let’s see, if looks deceive – or not!”

Target “Ayton” as seen by the rover’s Chemistry & Camera Remote Micro Imager (RMI). Photo taken on Sol 2867, August 29, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

In other parts of the plan, the rover’s Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN) is doing a DAN passive, and environmental researchers continue to observe the current atmospheric situation with dust opacity and dust devil observations.

Mastcam is also adding to the mosaic they are building over the past sols with a 14×3 mosaic.

“All the things one can do while drilling, and that are very exciting for science to analyze a wider area for relationships of the observed structures and textures,” Schwenzer concludes, “but the big nail-biting moment will be when we learn if the wet chemistry experiment was successful. Fingers crossed for SAM!”

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