USGS Astrogeology Science Center News http://astrogeology.usgs.gov/news News about current and upcoming space missions, USGS gelogic products and historical exhibits en-us <![CDATA[Sols 823-825: Brushing off the dust at Alexander Hills]]> Wed, 26 Nov 2014 00:00:00 -0700 While everyone is recovering from their Thanksgiving meals, Curiosity will be feasting on some exciting science targets at the Alexander Hills!  We are on our second pass at the Pahrump Hills, and on this pass we are using the instruments on the robotic arm to investigate several key outcrops in more detail.   This weekend we’re focusing on the Alexander Hills.  In the previous plan we used the Dust Removal Tool (DRT) to brush off the dust at a target named “Mescal” to expose a fresh surface.  This Navcam image from Sol 819 shows the arm extended while investigating “Mescal.”  Over the weekend 3-sol plan, we’ll use the ChemCam instrument to learn about the composition of the targets “Mescal” and “Horned Toad,” and we’ll also acquire some Mastcam images to document those targets.  Then we’ll use the DRT to brush off the dust at “Puente.”  Once we have a clean surface, we can use the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) to acquire high-resolution images to study the exposed sedimentary structures and grain sizes.  After that we’ll use the Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS) to figure out the bulk chemical composition of “Puente.”  The plan also includes some Navcam observations to monitor the atmosphere above Mt. Sharp and search for dust devils.  As the MSL team takes a break over the Thanksgiving holiday, I know that we’ll all be thankful for our healthy rover doing some really great science on Mars!

Dates of planned rover activities described in these reports are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.

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<![CDATA[Sols 820-822 Update On Curiosity From USGS Scientist Lauren Edgar: Investigating Alexander Hills]]> Tue, 25 Nov 2014 00:00:00 -0700 Curiosity is currently investigating the Alexander Hills outcrop.  This Mastcam mosaic from Sol 817 shows some of the interesting rock textures that we’ll study at this location.  With Thanksgiving coming up, the operations team is putting together several multi-sol plans so that the team can take a break over the holiday.  That means that today we’ll plan Sols 820-822, and tomorrow we’ll plan Sols 823-825 to take us through the weekend.  On Sol 820 Curiosity will perform several ChemCam tests to develop ways to focus without using the autofocus laser.  We will also take Mastcam images to document the ChemCam targets, and a Mastcam tau measurement to monitor atmospheric opacity.  On Sol 821 Curiosity will acquire a Mastcam mosaic of the Gilbert Peak and Chinle outcrops, and a Navcam movie to monitor the atmosphere and search for clouds.  The plan also includes ChemCam RMI SkyFlats to measure the “flat field” which will improve our processing of RMI images.  The third sol includes a Mastcam observation of the brushed target “Mescal” using all of the camera filters.  That should keep Curiosity busy while the team takes a well-deserved break! 

Dates of planned rover activities described in these reports are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.

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<![CDATA[Sol 819 Update on Curiosity from USGS Scientist Ken Herkenhoff: Late planning]]> Mon, 24 Nov 2014 00:00:00 -0700 The difficult 35-meter drive planned for Sol 817 went perfectly, placing the rover in position for arm activities on the Alexander Hills outcrop.  We also received good news from ChemCam:  test images acquired on Sol 816 showed that the instrument can still acquire data without using the autofocus laser.  More ChemCam tests were planned today.  Sol 819 planning started 3 hours later than usual, giving me extra time to prepare for my MAHLI/MARDI uplink lead shift this morning.  We had lots of interesting rocks to choose from, and decided to brush a target dubbed "Mescal."  After taking MAHLI images, the APXS will be placed on the same target for a long overnight integration to measure its elemental chemistry.  We also planned MAHLI images of targets "Puente" and "Cajon," as well as Mastcam mosaics including these and other targets of interest.

Dates of planned rover activities described in these reports are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.

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<![CDATA[Sols 816-818 Update On Curiosity From USGS Scientist Lauren Edgar: Leaving Book Cliffs]]> Fri, 21 Nov 2014 00:00:00 -0700 Curiosity's are extended to analyze Topanga

Over the weekend 3-sol plan, Curiosity will wrap up the investigation at Book Cliffs and drive toward Alexander Hills and Carnivore Canyon.   It’s been a great week at Book Cliffs, and Curiosity acquired a lot of exciting data.  We analyzed 3 fresh surfaces at Book Cliffs, at the lower, middle and upper parts of the outcrop.  This Navcam image from Sol 815 shows the arm extended while Curiosity was investigating the target “Topanga”.  The brush spots at “Punchbowl” and “Afton Canyon” are also visible at the bottom middle and lower right sides of the image.  In the weekend plan, Curiosity will acquire Mastcam multispectral images and ChemCam passive observations of the three brush spots.  There are also several Navcam and ChemCam activities to monitor the atmosphere and search for clouds.  Then Curiosity will drive toward Alexander Hills and Carnivore Canyon, and acquire standard post-drive imaging to prepare for contact science next week!

Dates of planned rover activities described in these reports are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.

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<![CDATA[Sol 815 Update On Curiosity From USGS Scientist Lauren Edgar: Another busy day at Book Cliffs]]> Thu, 20 Nov 2014 00:00:00 -0700 Over the past few sols Curiosity has been investigating the Book Cliffs outcrop at the Pahrump Hills.   On Sol 814, Curiosity brushed off the dust at “Afton Canyon” as seen in this MAHLI image.  Today’s plan is focused on characterizing the upper part of Book Cliffs.  ChemCam is back in action after a brief stand down due to degradation of the instrument’s smaller laser used for focusing.  The plan today includes a ChemCam passive observation of the sky and a focus test on a small pebble.  We will also use the Dust Removal Tool to clear off a fresh surface at the target “Topanga” followed by MAHLI and APXS on that surface.  We’re also planning to acquire MAHLI images on the targets “Goblin_Valley” and “Jail_Canyon.”  Another busy day on Mars!  We’ve been delivering some pretty complicated plans lately, but thanks to a very talented operations team, everything is going well and the data looks great.

Dates of planned rover activities described in these reports are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.

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<![CDATA[Sol 814 Update On Curiosity From USGS Scientist Lauren Edgar: More Contact Science at Book Cliffs]]> Wed, 19 Nov 2014 00:00:00 -0700 Curiosity is still investigating the Book Cliffs outcrop on our second pass at the Pahrump Hills.   To learn more about Curiosity’s activities at the Pahrump Hills, check out this recent press release.  I’m on duty as the Geology and Mineralogy Science Theme Lead again today.  It turns out that I was also on duty when we were at Book Cliffs on the first pass, so it’s starting to feel a little like Groundhog Day.  But it’s an interesting outcrop, and we’ve been able to acquire a lot of great data here.  Yesterday we analyzed the lower part of the outcrop (as seen in this Front Hazcam image), and today is focused on the middle part of the outcrop.  We will use the Dust Removal Tool to clear off a fresh surface at a target named “Afton Canyon,” and then we’ll use MAHLI and APXS to study the sedimentary structures and chemistry.  We’re also planning what we call a “dog’s eye mosaic” of the target “Anaverde,” meaning that we’ll acquire a series of MAHLI images across a vertical face – sticking our nose right in there to get a good view.  In this plan Curiosity will also image part of upper Book Cliffs at the target “Topanga” to prepare for DRT placement on that area tomorrow.

Dates of planned rover activities described in these reports are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.

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<![CDATA[Sol 813 Update On Curiosity From USGS Scientist Lauren Edgar: Brushing off the dust at Book Cliffs]]> Tue, 18 Nov 2014 00:00:00 -0700 After a successful drive on Sol 812, Curiosity is well positioned for contact science at the Book Cliffs outcrop.  We’ve been taking some really interesting MAHLI images lately, including this one from Sol 810 of the target “Potatoe).  The plan today is to use the Dust Removal Tool to clear off a fresh surface at the lower part of Book Cliffs (at a target named “Punchbowl”), and then characterize the cleared surface using the MAHLI and APXS instruments.  We’ll acquire MAHLI images under different lighting conditions to study the rock textures, and APXS will provide information about the bulk chemical composition of the target.  We’ll also acquire MAHLI images of the target “Old Dad Mountain,” which is a slightly more resistant part of the lower outcrop.  The plan also includes imaging to prepare for possible contact science on the upper part of Book Cliffs, and a Navcam observation to monitor atmospheric activity above Mount Sharp.  Looking forward to more contact science tomorrow!

Dates of planned rover activities described in these reports are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.

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<![CDATA[Sol 812 Update On Curiosity From USGS Scientist Lauren Edgar: Booking it back to Book Cliffs]]> Mon, 17 Nov 2014 00:00:00 -0700 Curiosity continues to investigate the Pahrump Hills.  This is the second time that we are driving up the exposed section, and on this pass we’ve selected several key outcrops to study in more detail.  The full path of our “walkabout” at the Pahrump Hills can be seen here.  Over the weekend Curiosity used her Dust Removal Tool to expose fresh surfaces at several spots at Pink Cliffs, and today we’re planning to image those locations using all of the Mastcam camera filters.  Then Curiosity will drive from Pink Cliffs to Book Cliffs.  After the drive we’ll acquire Mastcam and Navcam images to prepare for contact science tomorrow.  One of the challenges in today’s plan is that our expected downlink data volume is fairly low, meaning that we might not get all of the images down in time for planning tomorrow. But if all goes well and the necessary images are received, then we’re looking forward to getting detailed information about the fine-scale textures and chemistry at Book Cliffs tomorrow.  I’m on duty as the Geology and Mineralogy Science Theme Lead this week, so my fingers are crossed for some good data!

Dates of planned rover activities described in these reports are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.

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<![CDATA[Sol 809-811 Update on Curiosity from USGS Scientist Ryan Anderson: Contact Science]]> Fri, 14 Nov 2014 00:00:00 -0700 Navcam image showing Curiosity's arm outstretched, doing contact science.

With the weekend coming up, we are working on a three sol plan for sols 809-811. The main activity for sol 809 is using Curiosity’s arm to brush off the target “Mojave” followed by supporting images with Mastcam and MAHLI and measurements with APXS. On sol 810, Mastcam has two mosaics in the morning, one of which is a re-shoot of the “Pink Cliffs” mosaic from sol 808, but taken in the late afternoon this time so that the low angle of the lighting highlights the textures. In the evening there is another round of contact science. We will brush the dust off of the target “Potatoe” (which, despite what you may think, was not named by Dan Quayle), and do several APXS measurements along with MAHLI images. MAHLI will also take some pictures of the target “Pilot Knob Valley”. On sol 811, science mostly has the day off after a couple of late nights of APXS and MAHLI, and the main activity is an engineering test of the backup computer on Curiosity to make sure that it can be used as the primary computer if that ever becomes necessary.

Dates of planned rover activities described in these reports are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.

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<![CDATA[Sol 806-808 Update on Curiosity from USGS Scientist Ryan Anderson: Congratulations Rosetta!]]> Thu, 13 Nov 2014 00:00:00 -0700 Navcam view of target

On Sol 806, we at the USGS were off for Veteran’s Day, but Curiosity was still busy! The sol 806 plan had a pretty simple morning science block with a single Mastcam image of the target “Glendora” along with some Mastcam and Navcam atmospheric observations. After that, we used the arm to take close-up images of targets “Ricardo” and “Pelona,” and to brush off Ricardo in preparation for an overnight measurement of its composition using APXS. The afternoon science block was dedicated to some more atmospheric observations.

On sol 807, we did some Navcam cloud monitoring over Mount Sharp, and made some Mastcam observations of targets “Shoemaker”, Pelona, and Ricardo. After that, we drove toward “Pink Cliffs” and then took some Mastcam and Navcam of our surroundings to look for good locations for more contact science. Our expected downlink for sol 807 was limited, so we had to be careful about prioritizing which data came down first.

Of course, while sol 807 planning was happening, the Rosetta team (including several of our colleagues on Curiosity) was busy making history by landing on a comet! The pictures that the Philae lander is returning are just spectacular – congratulations to the European Space Agency!

In Curiosity’s sol 808 plan, we have some more Mastcam and Navcam atmospheric monitoring and dust-devil searches. There is also a Mastcam mosaic of “Pink Cliffs” and of targets “Rosamond” and “Fernando.” Then the arm will get a workout: MAHLI will take a picture of the ChemCam window and the REMS UV sensor, and then Curiosity will brush the dust off of the target Rosamond, followed by MAHLI images, and several APXS measurements, including an overnight integration.

Dates of planned rover activities described in these reports are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.
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<![CDATA[Sol 805 Update on Curiosity from USGS Scientist Ken Herkenhoff: Tight Sol]]> Mon, 10 Nov 2014 00:00:00 -0700 MSL planning is no longer restricted, but today's commands must be sent to the spacecraft earlier than usual, so tactical planning started 1 hour earlier than usual.  The Sol 803 drive put the rover in a good position for examination of fine-scale layering using the arm instruments.  The science team proposed several arm activities on various targets, but time limitations required reducing the observations to APXS measurements and MAHLI imaging of two targets, "Ricardo" and "Pelona."  The Dust Removal Tool will be used to brush dust off of the target Pelona before imaging it with MAHLI and placing the APXS on it for overnight integration.  It was a hectic morning for me as SOWG Chair as we prioritized science targets and determined what could be included in the plan and reviewed before the deadline for uplink to the rover. 

Dates of planned rover activities described in these reports are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.

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<![CDATA[Sol 803-804 Update on Curiosity from USGS Scientist Ken Herkenhoff: Shoemaker]]> Fri, 07 Nov 2014 00:00:00 -0700 I'm not on shift today, but keeping up with planning because I'm scheduled as SOWG Chair again on Monday.  And of course I'm curious to see how Curiosity is doing!  The arm activities planned for Sols 801 and 802 completed successfully, so this weekend the rover will drive toward the target "Shoemaker," named after the founder of the USGS Branch of Astrogeology, Eugene M. Shoemaker.  But first, the arm will be stowed so that Mastcam can observe the Sol 802 contact science targets, and a full set of MAHLI images of the wheels will be acquired.  Only two sols are being planned this weekend because Mars and Earth time are getting back in sync, completing the transition from restricted to nominal planning.

Dates of planned rover activities described in these reports are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.

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<![CDATA[Sol 801-802 Update on Curiosity from USGS Scientist Ken Herkenhoff: Investigating the Scuff]]> Wed, 05 Nov 2014 00:00:00 -0700 The short drive and wheel scuffing activities planned for Sol 799 all completed as planned, leaving the rover in position for detailed examination of the scuff.  Planning is still restricted, so we are planning 2 sols again today.  On Sol 801, Mastcam and ChemCam will observe the material disturbed by the scuff, the "wall" of the scuff, and undisturbed material outside of the scuffed area for comparison.  Then the APXS will be placed on the disturbed target "Kelso" for overnight integration. Much more arm work is planned for Sol 802:  The APXS will be used to sense the surface, allowing more accurate placement of MAHLI near targets "Dumont," "Kelso," and "Garlock" for high-resolution imaging.  Then the APXS will be placed on Dumont for another overnight integration.  Planning all of these activities took more time than usual, so as SOWG Chair I had to watch the clock and push more than usual to get back on schedule.  In the end, we recovered and the plan is looking good.

Dates of planned rover activities described in these reports are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.

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<![CDATA[Sol 799-800 Update on Curiosity from USGS Scientist Ken Herkenhoff: Walkabout Completed]]> Mon, 03 Nov 2014 00:00:00 -0700 The initial reconnaissance of the Pahrump Hills outcrop is complete, and the 53-meter Sol 797 drive successfully placed the rover near the ripples of interest.  So the Sol 799 plan includes a short drive into the ripples and "scuffing" of a 15-cm high ripple to examine its interior.  Some of the Pahrump "walkabout" data have not yet been received from the rover, so we decided to limit the acquisition of new data on Sols 799 and 800 to allow more of the walkabout data to be returned.  Before the Sol 799 drive and scuff, ChemCam and Mastcam will observe a bright outcrop named "Hackberry Spring."  Then CheMin will add more mineralogical data for the Confidence Hill drill sample by integrating overnight and into Sol 800.  I'm SOWG Chair today, and happy to see the prediction that the rest of the Pahrump walkabout data will be received by Sol 801.

 

Dates of planned rover activities described in these reports are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.

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<![CDATA[Sol 796-798 Update on Curiosity from USGS Scientist Ken Herkenhoff: Whale Rock]]> Fri, 31 Oct 2014 00:00:00 -0700 The 30-meter drive planned for Sol 794 completed perfectly, placing the rover near laminated blocks shed from the Whale Rock outcrop (visible at upper right in this image).  So ChemCam and Mastcam will observe some of these blocks and the outcrop on Sol 796, before the rover drives away on Sol 797.  I'm MAHLI/MARDI uplink lead again today, so I focused on planning MARDI imaging during and after the drive.  The goal of the drive is the sandy ripples near the Confidence Hills drill site, where the physical and chemical properties of the ripples will be investigated.

Dates of planned rover activities described in these reports are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.

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