The small, dark nodules embedded in the “Ayton” rock shown in the Remote Micro-Imager (RMI). This image was taken on Sol 2837.
Credits NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now carrying out Sol 2849 tasks.

“Mary Anning drill target.” Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera Left B image taken on Sol 2849, August 11, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“The most important activity for Curiosity on sol 2849 is an analysis of the “Mary Anning” drill sample with SAM’s gas chromatograph (GC) and quadrupole mass spectrometer (QMS),” reports Melissa Rice, a planetary geologist at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington.

“The operation of these instruments together, in what we call GCMS mode, is how we can identify the organic compounds that may be preserved in this clay-bearing outcrop. This is a big day for the Mary Anning drill campaign, and the results of the GCMS will help determine how we will continue our investigation of this site,” Rice adds.

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera photo taken on Sol 2848, August 10, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Luxury looks

During extensive drill campaigns, while Curiosity parked in one location for several weeks, the science team has ample time to scrutinize the rocks, pebbles and sands in the immediate vicinity of the rover.

“This is a luxury,” Rice notes, “because when Curiosity is driving, we usually get just a quick glimpse of the terrain in front of the rover before leaving it behind forever.”

Often, an instrument such as the robot’s Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) will measure the chemistry of a rock, and by the time Mars researchers have received and analyzed that chemistry data, Rice points out, that rock is just a speck in the rearview mirror.

Curiosity Chemistry & Camera RMI acquired on Sol 2847, August 9, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

“But during a drill campaign, when ChemCam reveals something interesting about a nearby target, we have the chance to follow up with more measurements,” Rice points out.

So that’s exactly what ChemCam is doing in the current plan: a double take on a rock called “Ayton.”

ChemCam’s first laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS) measurement of Ayton on sol 2837 targeted the small, dark nodules embedded in the rock.

Curiosity Chemistry & Camera RMI photo acquired on Sol 2849, August 11, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL


Look back

On sol 2849, ChemCam is slated to look back at Ayton for a second LIBS observation to investigate why the chemistry is so different from its surroundings.

“Although Ayton is adjacent to the Mary Anning drill target, it looks completely unrelated, as Mary Anning does not have any of those dark speckles at all,” Rice says. “It is amazing how much variability there is over such small spatial scales here – and it sure is nice to have some time to peer around and take it in!”

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