Astrogeology Science Center

Sol 29 update on Curiosity from USGS Scientist Ken Herkenhoff: Check-in with Opportunity

7 September 2012

I was planning to stay on "Mars time" while in Flagstaff this week, but it would have meant less time with my family, so I haven't been sleeping very late. This has allowed me to call in to Mars Exploration Rover planning meetings at 9 AM and catch up with what Opportunity has been doing. After over 8 years roving on Mars, Opportunity is exploring the rim of a 22-km diameter crater that shows evidence from orbit of clay minerals that were probably formed during a more Earth-like period in Martian history. I'm the science lead for the Microscopic Imager (MI), the close-up camera (like a geologist's hand lens) on the end of Opportunity's instrument arm. The rover is now investigating an outcrop that is unlike any we have seen before. The MI just acquired a 2x2 mosaic of images of this outcrop. The abundant spherules seen in these images are generally smaller than the hematite concretions found on the Meridiani plains by Opportunity, and broken ones show more internal structure than the concretions. So they don't appear to be the same kind of concretions, but more data are needed to understand this rock. Today we are finalizing a plan that includes brushing the dust off of this outcrop, taking 4 more MI images to confirm that the brushing worked, and placing the Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer on the brushed spot to get elemental chemical information. There are other interesting outcrops in the vicinity of the rover, including some brighter ones that may contain more clay.

So the Opportunity mission is going very well, and I hope to find some time to keep up with it while I'm working on MSL in Pasadena. I will be working graveyard shift, but could drop in on Opportunity planning meetings after my MSL shift if I'm not exhausted. With so much rover activity on Mars these days, it will be difficult to sleep!