Curiosity Mast Camera Left image taken on Sol 3038, February 21, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Count ‘em: There’s now a fleet of Mars explorers busy at work in orbit and on the surface of the Red Planet, observes Scott Guzewich, an atmospheric scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Real image shows Perseverance rover being lowered to the floor of Jezero Crater by the Skycrane. Rocket engines kicked up streaks of dust during the touchdown.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

InSight’s first full selfie on Mars.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
Credit: NASA

Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission.
Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

ESA Trace Gas Orbiter at Mars.
Credit: ESA/ATG medialab

ESA’s Mars Express.
Credit: ESA/AOES Medialab

India’s MoM mission to Mars.
Credit: ISRO

China’s Tianwen-1.
Credit: CNSA

UAE’s Hope Mars orbiter.
Credit: Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Center

Eleven — NASA’s Curiosity, Perseverance, InSight, Odyssey, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, MAVEN, Europe’s Mars Express, the Trace Gas Orbiter, India’s Mars Orbiter mission, China’s Tianwen-1, and the UAE’s Hope — spacecraft are now concurrently exploring Mars from the surface and orbit.

“That incredible fleet produces synergistic science discoveries that would not be possible with any one spacecraft in isolation,” Guzewich notes.

Joint observations

Now in Sol 3040, the Curiosity Mars rover is engaged in one such joint observation with Europe’s Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO). TGO studies the chemical composition of the martian atmosphere as Curiosity does with its Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) through a “passive sky” observation.

“In a passive sky observation, ChemCam looks at the sky at different angles and positions and we are able to learn about the properties of dust, water ice clouds, and measure abundances of atmospheric gases like oxygen,” Guzewich reports. “By combining our work with TGO, we can measure the abundance of such gases from the surface all the way up to the top of the atmosphere!”

Drive to cliff

Outside of this atmospheric observation, a recently scripted plan was a routine touch-and-go.

Scientists selected a representative piece of bedrock in the workspace (“Plazac”) for Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) and the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) to study and then focused much of their remote sensing science on a fascinating cliff, “Mont Mercou,” that’s roughly 18 feet (5.5 meters) tall. The robot is driving toward this feature over the next several days of planning, Guzewich adds.

Both the robot’s Mastcam and ChemCam were slated to image Mont Mercou.

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 3039, February 22, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera view of “Mont Mercou” cliff that can be seen at the top left of this Navcam image. Taken on Sol 3038, February 21, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


Leave a Reply