Curiosity Navcam Left B image taken on Sol 1734, June 22, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is busy carrying out Sol 1736 duties.

Following a drive of a little over 54 feet (16.6 meters), “Curiosity has presented us with another beautiful workspace,” report Michael Battalio, an atmospheric scientist at Texas A&M University in College Station and Mark Salvatore, a planetary Geologist from the University of Michigan in Dearborn.

The majority of last week’s rover activities were focused on imaging Vera Rubin Ridge to observe its stratigraphic and structural relationship to the underlying Murray formation.

Curiosity Navcam Left B image taken on Sol 1734, June 22, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


Weekend plan

The weekend plan has the robot taking “a bit of a deviation from that, as we will be making numerous measurements of the local Murray formation,” Battalio and Salvatore note.

These “local” observations will be extremely valuable over the coming weeks, as Curiosity potentially transitions between two different geologic units: the Murray formation and Vera Rubin Ridge.

“The nature of this transition will hold important clues into the origin of the ridge and the evolution of Gale Crater as a whole,” Battalio and Salvatore explain.

Curiosity Front Hazcam Left B image acquired on Sol 1735, June 23, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

New targets

Curiosity’s upcoming tasks include first using its Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam) to probe the composition of three rocky targets, followed by acquiring high-resolution Mastcam images to document the targets.

The first target, known as “Winter Harbor,” is situated in front of the rover and is a benign, flat, and finely layered piece of the Murray formation.

Next, ChemCam will target “Beaver Dam Pond,” that appears to be a block of the Murray formation that may have been tilted on its side.

Fractured block

The plan next calls for Curiosity to point her mast just off her back right wheel where ChemCam will investigate “Kitteredge Brook” – a more plate-like and fractured block that appears to have a vein running through it.

Lastly, Mastcam will image one additional block of typical layered rock of the Murray formation known as “Crippens Brook.” The exposed layering of this target will help determine whether this section of the Murray formation is similar or different than previously analyzed locations, Battalio and Salvatore report.

After these remote observations, Curiosity will untuck her arm and engage in contact science with the Winter Harbor target.  First, the rover’s Dust Removal Tool will be used to brush away any surface dust.

Curiosity ChemCam Remote Micro-Imager photo taken on Sol 1733, June 21, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

Clues into chemistry

Curiosity is slated to then deploy the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) to the target. That device uses the decay of the radioactive element curium to generate alpha particles and X-rays that interact with the surface material. The energy recorded coming from the surface material as a result of these interactions holds important clues into the chemistry of the surface materials.

Curiosity will leave the APXS instrument in contact with Winter Harbor overnight to integrate its signal and to derive a precise measurement of the material’s composition.

The next sol, Curiosity is scheduled to investigate the chemistry of one more target called “Blunts Point,” a wavy and fractured block. Making use of ChemCam, the robot will take two contextual Mastcam images of this target, and take an additional three Mastcam images of a separate block slightly closer to the rover known as “Blunts Pond.” That feature appears similar in texture to Blunts Point. Mastcam will then acquire a full multispectral image of Winter Harbor before departing this location to the east.

Curiosity Mastcam Right image acquired on Sol 1734, June 22, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Environmental observations

Curiosity is also slated to take multiple environmental observations in the plan.

Battalio and Salvatore also note that on Sol 1738, a morning imaging suite will be taken, which will include two Navcam cloud movies – a zenith movie looking directly above the rover and a supra-horizon movie looking towards the rim of Gale Crater.

Mastcam will make measurements to assess the amount of dust in the atmosphere.

Later on Sol 1738, Mastcam will repeat those measurements twice to determine diurnal variability in the atmospheric opacity.

The plan will also include Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) imaging of the Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) ultraviolet (UV) sensor to determine the amount of dust on the UV photodiodes, which is done approximately every 60 sols. REMS and Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN) measurements will be taken according to the usual cadence.

Previous Phobos eclipse ingress on Sol 964, acquired by Curiosity’s Mastcam Right back on April 23, 2015.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Phobos and Deimos imagery

Curiosity is scheduled to become once again a roving astronomer in the scripted plan.

The robot’s Mastcam is slated to take images of both of Mars’s moons, Phobos and Deimos.

“Deimos imaging will assist in more accurately defining the moon’s orbit, so is not constrained in timing during the night. The imaging of Phobos will capture its ingress into the shadow of Mars – a Martian lunar eclipse,” Battalio and Salvatore explain.

“This specific astronomical event occurs repeatedly at this time of year, but the timing of the imaging must be exact. Imaging before the eclipse begins and during the ingress allows for an estimation of the size and amount of dust in the upper atmosphere of Mars. This is possible because as eclipse begins, the light that is reflected off of Phobos must skim through the top of Mars’s atmosphere first,” Battalio and Salvatore point out. “This light can then be compared to imaging before eclipse begins. Repeating the Phobos observation at different times of year allows for probing of the atmosphere over different locations and at different altitudes due to the relative geometry changing.”

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

Road map

A new Curiosity traverse map through Sol 1734 has been issued by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The map shows the route driven by NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity through the 1734 Martian day, or sol, of the rover’s mission on Mars (June 23, 2017).

Numbering of the dots along the line indicate the sol number of each drive. North is up. The scale bar is 1 kilometer (~0.62 mile).

From Sol 1732 to Sol 1734, Curiosity had driven a straight line distance of about 53.30 feet (16.25 meters), bringing the rover’s total odometry for the mission to 10.44 miles (16.81 kilometers).

The base image from the map is from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment Camera (HiRISE) in NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

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