USGS Astrogeology Science Center Astrogeology News http://astrogeology.usgs.gov/news News about current and upcoming space missions, USGS gelogic products and historical exhibits en-us <![CDATA[Sol 997: Preparing for contact science]]> Tue, 26 May 2015 00:00:00 -0700 Sol 995 Pahrump Stimson contact

By Lauren Edgar

Curiosity spent the weekend characterizing the terrain and bedrock exposed in Marias Pass.  Curiosity drove 33 m further into Marias Pass, bringing our total odometry to 10,596 m.   The drive set us up perfectly to investigate the contact between two different types of bedrock – the underlying Pahrump unit and the overlying Stimson unit.

Today’s plan is focused on characterizing the contact in this new location, and then bumping even closer to the outcrop to prepare for contact science later this week.  Now that ChemCam is back in action with its autonomous focusing capability, the plan includes two ChemCam rasters on the targets “Mission” and “Missoula” to assess the chemistry on either side of the contact.  The plan also includes some Mastcam mosaics to document the sedimentary structures, and a Navcam observation to search for dust devils.  Then Curiosity will bump closer to the outcrop, and will acquire images for future targeting.  Overnight, Curiosity will acquire Mastcam images of Phobos to study aerosols in the atmosphere of Mars.

--Lauren is a Research Geologist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center and a member of MSL science team.

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 993-996: A long weekend at Marias Pass]]> Fri, 22 May 2015 00:00:00 -0700 Sol 992 Stimson-Pahrump contact

By Lauren Edgar 

On Sol 992 Curiosity took a short drive into Marias Pass to get a better look at the terrain ahead.  The 6 m drive on Sol 992 brought our total odometry to 10,562 m.  It also put Curiosity in a great position for targeted science over the long holiday weekend.

The 4 sol plan includes some large Mastcam mosaics to characterize the terrain and the contact between the Stimson and Pahrump units.  The plan also includes ChemCam and Mastcam observations on the targets “Hoodoo,” “Pinehaven,” “Red Sleep,” and “Red Horn” to assess the composition of the bright outcrop and veins.  On Sol 995, Curiosity will bump closer to the outcrop, to prepare for possible contact science next week.  Curiosity will also acquire several Mastcam observations of Deimos and stars to assess the nighttime atmospheric opacity.  Sol 996 will be a “REMS-a-palooza” devoted entirely to extended environmental monitoring. 

--Lauren is a Research Geologist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center and a member of MSL science team.

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 992: Marias Pass]]> Thu, 21 May 2015 00:00:00 -0700 Sol 991 Marias Pass

By Lauren Edgar

Curiosity conquered the hill on Sol 991, and we were rewarded with a beautiful view of Marias Pass.  The 22 m drive on Sol 991 brings our total odometry to 10,556 m.

In today’s plan, Curiosity will acquire ChemCam and Mastcam observations on the targets “Elk” and “Bull” to characterize the bright bedrock and a nearby boulder.  We’ll also take several Mastcam mosaics to document the local stratigraphy.  After a short drive we’ll acquire additional Mastcam images to capture the contact between the Stimson and Pahrump units.  The plan also includes standard post-drive imaging, as well as DAN and REMS activities.

--Lauren is a Research Geologist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center and a member of MSL science team.

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 991: Taking the high road]]> Wed, 20 May 2015 00:00:00 -0700 Sol 990 drive direction

By Lauren Edgar

After assessing a few different drive paths to deal with the challenging terrain, the team decided to drive uphill to avoid crossing the ripples near Jocko Butte.  On Sol 990, Curiosity drove 52 m back towards Mt. Shields, which puts our total odometry at 10,533 m.  

The goal of today’s plan is to climb uphill towards an interesting geologic contact.  It’s the same contact that we would have seen in Logan Pass, but the path through “Marias Pass” looks a little bit shorter.  Today’s plan also includes ChemCam and Mastcam observations of the target “Petty,” and Mastcam documentation of “Apikuni Mountain” and Mt. Shields to characterize the local geology.  After the drive we’ll acquire some standard imaging to help with future targeting.

Hopefully the climb will give Curiosity a good workout, and we’ll get to see some exciting features when we get there! 

--Lauren is a Research Geologist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center and a member of MSL science team.

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 990: ChemCam Autofocus Software]]> Tue, 19 May 2015 00:00:00 -0700

by Ken Herkenhoff

Testing of the new ChemCam automatic focusing software continues to go well--the instrument is returning well-focused data of the quality we got used to early in the mission.  The MAHLI test data acquired on Sol 989 are also looking good; here's an image of the penny in the MAHLI calibration target on the rover.  Having completed the most urgent arm activities needed before conjunction, MSL is ready to drive again.  The Sol 990 plan begins with a Navcam search for dust devils, ChemCam and Mastcam observations of "Pinedale," and a Right Mastcam image of the APXS target "Spokane."  Then the rover will drive west in search of a route up the hill toward the southwest and acquire the post-drive data needed to plan the next drive and targeted science observations. 

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 987-989: Back at Jocko Butte]]> Mon, 18 May 2015 00:00:00 -0700 by Ryan Anderson

The backwards drive on sol 986 was successful, and over the weekend, Curiosity drove back toward “Jocko Butte”. Before the drive on sol 987, ChemCam had a 5x1 observation of the target “Mill”, accompanied by a Mastcam image. Mastcam also took a small 2x2 mosaic of our tracks.

The drive back toward Jocko Butte was about 43 m, bringing our total odometry to 10,697 m. After the drive, Navcam and Mastcam took images to allow for targeted science and contact science, and Navcam also had an atmospheric observation. On sol 988, we had several “untargeted” observations, including some Mastcam measurements of the amount of dust in the atmosphere, a Mastcam “clast survey” observation, and a MAHLI image of the ground at our new location.

In today’s plan for sol 989, there is a ChemCam 3x3 observation on the target “Spokane”, and an accompanying APXS observation. (And can I just say how nice it is to be able to rapidly analyze nine spots on a target with ChemCam again?) Sol 989 also has a number of arm settling tests with MAHLI that we want to get done before the upcoming conjunction (several weeks when the sun is between the Earth and Mars, cutting off communications). These tests help us to see how long it takes for vibrations in the rover’s arm to disappear enough to allow good MAHLI images. Finally, APXS will be placed back on Spokane for an overnight measurement.

After sol 989, we will be driving again, though where exactly we will go is still being discussed. We want to get to the stratigraphic contact at the base of “Mt. Stimson”, but it is proving to be difficult to reach so we are also considering alternatives. 

-Ryan is a planetary scientist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center and a member of the ChemCam team on MSL.

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 986: Finding a Path]]> Fri, 15 May 2015 00:00:00 -0700 by Ryan Anderson

We’ve been having trouble with the path we originally wanted to take through the sand toward the interesting geology at “Mt. Stimson”, so in today’s plan we are going to take a careful look around to identify better routes. Mastcam has a 13x3 mosaic in the direction we want to go, as well as a 5x3 mosaic of Mt. Stimson and a 2x2 mosaic to fill a gap in a previous mosaic.

While Mastcam tries to spot a path through the sand, ChemCam is busy testing out its new focusing software, which seems to be working well. ChemCam has an autofocus observation of a target called “Yellowjacket”, and a z-stack observation of the same target to compare the results.

After that, we have a short backwards drive to get us from our current highly tilted location to more level ground. After the drive, Navcam will provide a 360 degree view of our new location, and Mastcam will do a “clast survey” to document the sand and pebbles at our new location.

Finally, Mastcam has some night-time imaging of another Phobos eclipse.

-Ryan is a planetary scientist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center and a member of the ChemCam team on MSL.

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 985: High Tilt]]> Thu, 14 May 2015 00:00:00 -0700

by Ken Herkenhoff

Once again, excessive wheel slippage prevented MSL from driving as far as planned, so the tactical team decided to take a break from driving to allow various options to be studied in more detail.  The rover is tilted 21 degrees, the highest tilt of the mission so far, on the flank of a small ridge.  The vehicle is high enough on the ridge that the terrain to the southwest is visible in Sol 984 Navcam images, allowing more complete evaluation of a traverse in that direction. 

The Sol 985 plan includes ChemCam observations of a nearby rock called "Una" to test the newly-installed ChemCam autofocus software.  Of course we are hoping this test goes well and that ChemCam will return to more normal operations soon.  Mastcam will also observe Una, as well as the ripples and small rocks near the rover, and outcrops toward the south.  The usual atmospheric monitoring observations round out the plan.

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 984: Slippery sand]]> Wed, 13 May 2015 00:00:00 -0700

 

by Ken Herkenhoff

The MSL tactical team took a day off yesterday to allow Earth and Mars time to synch up; planning is no longer restricted and we will be working every day the rest of this week (including Saturday).  Despite efforts to avoid sandy areas, the Sol 983 drive stopped short when the rover detected that it was slipping too much.  So after taking some Mastcam images of the areas that are being considered for upcoming contact science, the rover will back up and drive around the sand and up onto a low ridge to the southwest of our current location.  The slopes on the flank of the ridge are steeper than those that the rover has traversed before, but it will probably be easier to climb them than to drive across the sandy ripples.  Overnight, CheMin will perform an instrument calibration activity.

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 983: More sand traps]]> Mon, 11 May 2015 00:00:00 -0700

 

by Ken Herkenhoff

The Sol 981 drive got the rover around the troublesome ripples and to the desired location, which gave us a good view of the terrain ahead.  Unfortunately, the images taken from the new location show more sandy ripples between the rover and the sharp transition between bright and dark rocks that we would would like to examine close up.  So the plan for Sol 983 is to go around the ripples to the right and search for a safe path ahead.  But first, ChemCam will test its new focusing software, using the RMI to find the best focus position for LIBS analyses of the onboard calibration targets.  The biggest challenge for me as SOWG Chair today was prioritizing data for downlink, as the data volume expected via MRO is much less than usual.  We will probably receive the images most urgently needed to plan the next drive, but not the results of the ChemCam software tests.  This will delay the return of ChemCam to "normal" operations.  But the near-term focus will likely be on driving, so there will be few opportunities for ChemCam observations anyway. 

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 980-982: Dodging Sand, Updating ChemCam]]> Fri, 08 May 2015 00:00:00 -0700 by Ryan Anderson

The Sol 978 drive stopped after going only a couple meters instead of the expected ~19 meters because Curiosity detected that its wheels were slipping in the sand. The rover periodically takes pictures of its surroundings while driving to make sure that it is actually moving forward and its wheels are not just spinning in place. This was a lesson learned years ago when the Opportunity rover got itself stuck in a sand ripple by spinning its wheels. Curiosity currently is in no danger of getting stuck: in the weekend plan we will just back up slightly and drive around the worst of the sand.

On Sol 980, before we drive, ChemCam and Mastcam will analyze two targets, “Silver Valley” and “Snowslip” and Navcam will watch for clouds above Mt. Sharp. Then on sol 981, Mastcam will take some pictures of the crater rim and the sun to measure the amount of dust in the atmosphere. After that comes the drive and our standard post-drive images so we can see our new surroundings. Mastcam will also take a 7x2 mosaic of Logan Pass right after driving.

In the afternoon of Sol 981, ChemCam will turn on so that its software can be updated. I’ve really been looking forward to this update, which will allow ChemCam to automatically focus using its camera, bringing us back to almost-normal operations!

On sol 982 there won’t be much activity, just some maintenance activities for REMS.

-Ryan is a planetary scientist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center and a member of the ChemCam team on MSL.

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 978-979: Jocko Chute]]> Wed, 06 May 2015 00:00:00 -0700 by Ryan Anderson

Looking ahead to Logan Pass

The sol 976 drive was successful and we are close to “Jocko Chute” (our informal name for the saddle point west of Jocko Butte). In the sol 978 plan, we have a ChemCam LIBS observation of a patch of exposed bedrock called “Big Salmon”, followed by lots of Mastcam images. There is a 14x3 mosaic of some hills in the direction of our drive, some single frame high-resolution images of the targets “Silvertip”, “White_Coyote”, and part of the wall of “Logan Pass”. There is also a stereo Mastcam image of an outcrop called “White Horse” and a 4x2 mosaic of Jocko Butte.

Once all that is done, we will drive toward “Logan Pass” and do our standard post-drive imaging so we can see our new surroundings. On sol 979 ChemCam has a few calibration observations of targets on the rover, and then Mastcam has an overnight observation of Phobos as it is eclipsed by Mars. The idea of this observation is to take pictures of Phobos when it is illuminated by the sun, and then when it is illuminated just by light passing through Mars’ atmosphere, and compare them to figure out how much dust is in the atmosphere.

-Ryan is a planetary scientist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center and a member of the ChemCam team on MSL.

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 976-977: Onward to Jocko Butte]]> Mon, 04 May 2015 00:00:00 -0700 by Ryan Anderson

With our weekend contact science done, it’s time to hit the road again. The sol 976 plan includes some final Mastcam mosaics of the interesting outcrops that we have been studying, plus a Mastcam multispectral observation of the target “Albert” that ChemCam zapped over the weekend. After that, we will drive about 60 m, to a location west of “Jocko Butte”. After the drive we have Navcam imaging to allow us to choose targets near where we stop, as well as take pictures looking back from where we just were, to view the outcrops from a different angle. Overnight, the SAM instrument will measure the amount of noble gases in the atmosphere. On sol 977, ChemCam will do some “passive” (no laser) atmospheric observations, Navcam will watch for clouds over Mt. Sharp, and Mastcam has a small 1x4 mosaic. 

-Ryan is a planetary scientist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center and a member of the ChemCam team on MSL.

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 973-975: Albert, Bigfork, and Charity]]> Fri, 01 May 2015 00:00:00 -0700

 

by Ken Herkenhoff

MSL is in a good position for contact science observations on an interesting outcrop of sedimentary rock, so the rover will be busy this weekend!  We had to change the timing of the arm activities a bit to optimize the illumination of MAHLI targets, so it was a busy morning for me as SOWG Chair but I'm happy with the way the plan turned out.  On Sol 973, ChemCam and Mastcam will observe nearby targets "Albert" and "Charity," the RMI will image a distant target named "Empire," and Navcam will search for clouds and dust devils.  Overnight, CheMin will dump the remaining drill sample from one of its cells and measure the cell to confirm that the dump was successful.  The arm will be deployed on Sol 974 and used to acquire a small MAHLI mosaic of "Bigfork," then place the APXS on the same target for an overnight integration.  The rover will wake up earlier than usual to measure the amount of dust in the atmosphere at 8 AM on Sol 975 by imaging the sun.  Later that morning, ChemCam and Mastcam will perform more atmospheric measurements, and the 100-mm Mastcam will be used to image some distant rock targets.  In the afternoon, the Dust Removal Tool (DRT) will be used to brush the dust off of "Albert" and take MAHLI images of the brushed spot.  The APXS will then be placed on the DRT spot for 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 971-972: Approaching outcrop]]> Wed, 29 Apr 2015 00:00:00 -0700

 

by Ken Herkenhoff

This morning the MSL science team used all of the available data to decide whether to approach one of the nearby outcrops or drive away.  Ultimately we decided to approach the closer of the large outcrops in front of the rover to set up for contact science this weekend.  Planning is still "restricted," so we planned two sols of activities today.  ChemCam and Mastcam will observe a nearby rock named "Helena," and the RMI will image a distant target dubbed "Lolo" on the morning of Sol 971.  Then MAHLI will acquire a set of images of the wheels to track wear before the rover drives a few meters toward the selected outcrop.  Overnight, CheMin will analyze the sample cell that was recently emptied to confirm that no material remains in the cell.  On Sol 972, ChemCam will acquire calibration data, and Navcam will search for clouds.  Finally, SAM will perform an instrument maintenance activity overnight.

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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