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 697 - 698 Update on Curiosity from USGS Scientist Ryan Anderson: Holding Off]]> Thu, 24 Jul 2014 00:00:00 -0700 No science uplink was sent to the rover for sol 697 or 698 because the engineers are investigating an issue with the rover's backup computer. The primary computer used in day-to-day operations is healthy, but we are holding off on science operations until we are sure the backup is healthy, just to be safe. The blog will resume when we start science operations again.

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<![CDATA[Sol 696 Update on Curiosity from USGS Scientist Ryan Anderson: Using Every Instrument]]> Mon, 21 Jul 2014 00:00:00 -0700 We’re slowly picking our way across the rugged cap-rock of Zabriskie Plateau. Over the weekend we drove 23.4 m while also managing to use every single instrument on the rover! For the Sol 696 plan we will be doing two quick APXS integrations on targets Wildrose and Surprise, along with documentation images. We’ll also be taking a Mastcam multispectral observation of Mahogany Flats and a right-eye image of the target Jangle. Multispectral observations involve taking pictures of a target with various filters in front of the camera. This results in a low-resolution spectrum for each pixel in the image, which can be used to figure out (very approximately) what type of minerals are present, and to pull out detail that would not be visible with an ordinary red-green-blue image. Once the science is done in the sol 696 plan, we will drive again.

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 693 - 695 Update On Curiosity From USGS Scientist Ken Herkenhoff: South Park]]> Sat, 19 Jul 2014 00:00:00 -0700 There isn't time today to plan 3 sols of activities before commands for Sol 693 must be sent to the rover, so no activities are being planned for Sol 693. The plan for Sols 694 includes MAHLI and APXS observations of South Park, ChemCam of Johnnie and Mastcam images of both targets. Another drive is then planned for Sol 695, followed by the standard post-drive imaging. The target rocks are part of the resistant unit that caps other rock units in this area.

Today was the last day of the International Mars Conference. After summaries of Mars missions that are being planned for launch in the next few years, five Mars experts led discussion of the scientific results reported during the conference and plans for the future. Everyone agreed that this is a very exciting time, with lots of new data to analyze and more being acquired every day!

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 692 Update On Curiosity From USGS Scientist Ken Herkenhoff: Bizarre Environment]]> Fri, 18 Jul 2014 00:00:00 -0700 Another good day at the International Mars Conference, with back-to-back talks by USGS Astrogeologists: First, Colin Dundas showed evidence in Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter HiRISE images for the ongoing formation of gullies, involving seasonal carbon dioxide frost (dry ice) but not necessarily water. Then Hugh Kieffer gave a very unconventional talk about the uniquely Martian geysers in the south polar seasonal cap, taking the audience along with him on an imaginary visit to this bizarre environment. His use of props (including breaking a pencil and other sound effects) engaged the audience and earned him the longest applause of the entire conference. There were many other excellent presentations (including another 100 posters), but I'm especially proud of my USGS colleagues. We are learning so much about Mars, but of course many unanswered questions remain.

Meanwhile, MSL's Sol 691 drive was successful (almost 24 meters), and the Sol 692 plan included ChemCam and Mastcam observations of the target Pyramid Hills before another drive.

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 691 Update On Curiosity From USGS Scientist Ken Herkenhoff: Plasma!]]> Thu, 17 Jul 2014 00:00:00 -0700 Some of the MAHLI images taken during the Sol 687 ChemCam LIBS measurements of Nova captured the plasma generated by the laser! The Sol 690 drive completed as planned, totaling nearly 30 meters over relatively rough terrain. Another rapid-traverse sol was planned today, with ChemCam and Mastcam observations of a bright rock dubbed "Limekiln" before the drive. Meanwhile the presentations at the 8th International Mars Conference continued to impress: This morning, the SAM team reported that analyses of the Cumberland drill sample show evidence for organic carbon compounds on Mars, probably benzocarboxylic acids. As exciting as those results are, I was even more interested in the afternoon presentations on the Martian polar deposits, which have long been thought to record global climate changes like Earth's ice ages. As usual, the oral presentations were followed by 2 hours of poster presentations (a fresh set of 100 each day). These poster sessions give all of us a chance to discuss new results in detail and plan future observations and analysis.

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 690 Update on Curiosity from USGS Scientist Ryan Anderson: The First Billion Years]]> Wed, 16 Jul 2014 00:00:00 -0700 Today was another day of fascinating science at the 8th International Conference on Mars! The theme today was The first billion years and I was struck with the growing number of people suggesting that Mars was never particularly warm or wet in its past. Bob Haberle gave a nice summary of the challenges in coming up with a plausible way to get a thick enough atmosphere on early Mars for warm and wet conditions, concluding that nobody has really figured out a way to do it despite decades of work on the topic. There was a lot of discussion of the icy highlands hypothesis for the climate of early Mars, which suggests that ice on Mars should be trapped at high elevations (in much the same way that snow collects on the peaks of high mountains on Earth) and that rare melting of that ice caused the formation of the water-related features that are observed on Mars. This is far from the only possibility though, and the day was full of a lot of interesting discussion, trying to bring together the various lines of evidence to figure out what Mars was like during its first billion years.

Curiosity completed a short 9.6 meter drive on sol 689 as expected. For Sol 690 uplink, there was limited time for science but the team managed to fit a ChemCam observation of the target Reed before the drive.

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 689 Update On Curiosity From USGS Scientist Ken Herkenhoff: Mars Science Conference]]> Tue, 15 Jul 2014 00:00:00 -0700 Many of the scientists on the MSL team are attending the 8th International Mars Science Conference this week on the Caltech campus in Pasadena. I was pleased to see that 2 of the first 3 speakers were USGS Astrogeology colleagues: The first speaker, Ken Tanaka, introduced the new global geologic map of Mars that was included in the packet of materials handed out to each registered attendee. Ken led the major mapping effort that culminated in the publication of this map, and received well-deserved applause when he presented it to the audience. The third speaker, Oleg Abramov, showed the results of his detailed modeling of the effects of impact bombardment on the early history of Mars, concluding that the crust of the planet was probably not completely melted, leaving open the possibility of habitable environments during that violent time.

With all this going on, I wasn't able to keep up with MSL operations, but my review of the latest project reports shows that the rover drove over 82 meters last weekend. The Sol 689 drive will be more limited because the terrain ahead is rough.

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 687 Update on Curiosity from USGS Scientist Ryan Anderson: Soliday]]> Sat, 12 Jul 2014 00:00:00 -0700 Today we received data from sol 685, showing that we drove 60.4 meters, and the rover is busy doing its sol 686 activities right now. Today we are planning sols 687 and 688 to cover the weekend (Sunday is a soliday, which is a day without planning to allow Earth and Mars schedules to sync back up). We’re trying something special in the sol 687 plan: MAHLI is going to capture a picture of the plasma plume generated when ChemCam zaps a rock! Because of the low atmospheric pressure on Mars, the spark of plasma generated when ChemCam’s laser zaps a rock is larger and brighter than it would be on Earth. This is a complicated activity that has required lots of pre-planning but hopefully it will show a nice bright spark. After ChemCam zaps the rock (dubbed Nova), and MAHLI catches it in the act, we will take advantage of the fact that the rover’s arm is already out and place the APXS on the rock to do an overnight integration. Then, on sol 688, we will do another drive.

Meanwhile, most of the Mars scientists on the team are getting ready to head to the 8th International Conference on Mars next week (it’s actually in Pasadena, California, not on Mars). The rover will be doing rapid traverse sols next week so the plans will be light on science and focused on driving. Your blogging team will also be in Pasadena, so we won’t be able to do our daily Curiosity updates here, but we will try to put up a few brief posts about some of the interesting Mars science at the conference!

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 686 Update on Curiosity from USGS Scientist Ryan Anderson: Cut Short]]> Fri, 11 Jul 2014 00:00:00 -0700 The sol 683 drive was cut a bit short because the rover yaw exceeded the specified limits for the drive, which is a fancy way of saying that the rover steered away from its planned route to avoid an obstacle. The rover drivers tell the rover to stop when a drive deviates too far from the planned direction so that they can check and make sure everything is ok. The good news is: the rover is healthy and we’re planning another drive on sol 685. Before we drive, we will do a quick Mastcam observation of the sun and a ChemCam passive sky observation. After the drive we will do our standard post-drive imaging. Then, on sol 686 we will do a blind ChemCam observation with an accompanying Mastcam image. (We can’t drive on sol 686 because we don’t know how the sol 685 drive went).

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 685 Update on Curiosity from MSL Scientist Lauren Edgar: Science Block]]> Thu, 10 Jul 2014 00:00:00 -0700 Today we are planning Sol 685, which includes a short pre-drive science block, 2.5 hours of driving, and some post-drive imaging for targeting. The pre-drive science block contains some environmental monitoring including ChemCam passive spectroscopy of atmospheric composition and a Mastcam measurement of atmospheric dust opacity. Since we are still driving through a lot of loose sand, we expect that the drive will cover a distance of ~60 m. Once we get through this area of ripples we’ll drive up onto the Zabriskie Plateau, named after a sandstone near Shoshone, California. Tomorrow will be another restricted sol as we wait for data to come down, and then we’re looking forward to possible contact science and more driving over the weekend!

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 684 Update on Curiosity from MSL Scientist Lauren Edgar: Recharging]]> Wed, 09 Jul 2014 00:00:00 -0700 On Sol 683 Curiosity drove across a ripple to see how the vehicle performs in the loose sand. Today we are planning Sol 684, which is a restricted sol (meaning we don’t have all of the data down from 683 in order to plan another drive), and it’s also a very constrained sol in terms of available power. So it will be a light sol in terms of science (only some data management activities and standard environmental monitoring), but this way we’ll be able to have more time for science and driving in the Sol 685 plan. So we’ll recharge today and look forward to another long drive 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 683 Update On Curiosity From USGS Scientist Ken Herkenhoff: Ripple Driving Test]]> Tue, 08 Jul 2014 00:00:00 -0700 The imaging of the rover wheels went well last weekend, and we are ready to drive again on Sol 683. After taking a couple Mastcam mosaics of targets Tecopa and Billie, the rover will drive across one of the nearby ripples and take a lot of Hazcam and Navcam images to see how the vehicle performs in the loose sand. Analysis of the data acquired during this ripple driving test will be useful in future traverse planning. I'm MAHLI/MARDI uplink lead today, planning the usual post-drive MAHLI stowed image and MARDI twilight image

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[Remembering Gordon Swann: 1931 - 2014]]> Mon, 07 Jul 2014 00:00:00 -0700 Gordon Swann served as the Principal Investigator of the Apollo Lunar Geologic Experiment for Apollo Missions 14 and 15. In this role, Gordon and his team provided real-time geologic support for the missions from the official Science Operation Room at Mission Control Center, Houston, TX. The team was responsible for identifying the landing point of the Lunar Module, mapping and tracking traverses and surface activities, keeping a real-time transcript by a court reporter, and preparing topical notes, photographic and sample logs. . . Read more . . .

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<![CDATA[Sol 678 - 679 Update on Curiosity from USGS Scientist Ryan Anderson: In the Dunes]]> Fri, 04 Jul 2014 00:00:00 -0700 The sol 678 drive was successful! We traversed 66.5 meters, ending our drive right were we expected near some picturesque wind-blown ripples. Looking at these ripples in orbital HiRISE images, you might think they were big sand dunes, but in truth they aren’t very tall at all.

On sol 679, we have some Mastcam observations of the ripples and a drive direction Mastcam mosaic, followed by MAHLI imaging of the wheels. The rest of the weekend, the rover will be in a planned runout mode, where it automatically executes a set of simple commands, allowing the team to enjoy the 4th of July weekend. RAD and REMS will continue their environmental monitoring during the runout, but the other science instruments will be off. Curiosity will be ready and waiting to do more driving and science on Monday!

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 678 Update On Curiosity From USGS Scientist Ken Herkenhoff: Maneuvering]]> Thu, 03 Jul 2014 00:00:00 -0700 The Sol 677 drive was stopped after almost 20 meters (out of 57 m planned) by the autonomous navigation software, when it detected an obstacle more than 20 cm high. But the rover is healthy and acquired the post-drive data as planned, including Navcam images showing the rover tracks into the ripples where it got stuck, then backed out and around them. The Sol 677 post-drive data did not arrive until almost 14:00 Pacific time, so Sol 678 is being planned on the rapid-traverse timeline. Before the drive, Mastcam images of targets Tin Mountain, Ryan, and Argenta will be acquired.

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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