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 1033-1036: Independence Day Planning!]]> Thu, 02 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0700

To paraphrase our SOWG chair’s paraphrasing of the Declaration of Independence at the start of today’s SOWG meeting: “When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary to plan a 4 sol plan, we assemble a group of patriots to make that plan. And that’s what we did today!”

Today I was back on duty as KOP and Ken was on duty for ChemCam science. As usual, it was a busy planning day! After much discussion of what to analyze with ChemCam, we decided to do a 3x3 measurement of the target “Snow Bowl” to see if we could hit some large bright grains in the rock there (similar to the ones you can see in the MAHLI image above), as well as a 3x3 observation of the “Lumpry” target that APXS analyzed yesterday. We also had a Mastcam stereo mosaic of some of the nearby layered rocks. We also have some Mastcam observations of the sun, and a Navcam observation watching for clouds.

One of the trickiest things today was deciding how to schedule our Mastcam and ChemCam observations so that no Mastcam images were taken while ChemCam was turned on. (We try to avoid this because it makes things a lot more complicated). The problem was, we wanted to use ChemCam do a “passive” observation of the sky and then we were planning to do a coordinated observation that involves taking Mastcam multispectral images before and after zapping the target “Thunderbolt” with ChemCam. We solved the problem by moving the “before” Mastcam images so that they occur at the same time of day, but on the previous sol. That way we could go straight from the ChemCam sky observation to zapping the rock target without having to do any Mastcam in between. Solving challenges like this to maximize our science return is a lot of what is involved in day-to-day rover planning.

On sol 1035, while we in the U.S. are celebrating Independence Day, the rover will drive back toward where we were on Sol 991 while doing some DAN measurements. Then on sol 1036 the rover will rest and recharge with a day dedicated to routine REMS measurements. 

By Ryan Anderson

-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 1032: Lots of Contact Science!]]> Wed, 01 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0700

Phew! Today was a busy day on Mars! Ken and I were both on operations today, picking up where Lauren left off yesterday. Ken was helping with ChemCam science in the geology and mineralogy (GeoMin) theme group, and I was the GeoMin Keeper of the Plan (KOP). We started off the day admiring the beautiful images from the sol 1031 “dog’s-eye view” mosaic of the ledge near the target “Missoula”. Then there was a long discussion about where to do our contact science, and in particular where to put APXS for an overnight measurement. In the end, we decided to do a MAHLI mosaic of the target “Clark”, just to the left of the “dog’s eye” mosaic from sol 1031, and then a MAHLI observation of “Lumpry” which will also be the overnight APXS location.

That is followed by some Mastcam, starting with some carefully-timed images of Phobos as it crosses in front of the sun. After that, we are planning “multispectral” Mastcam observations of targets “Coombs”, “Cottonwood”, and “Lowary”. Multispectral means that we take images of the same target through several different color filters to get an idea of what the reflectance spectrum of the rocks looks like. After all that Mastcam we also have a Navcam movie to search for clouds, and a couple of Navcam images to allow more targeted Mastcam tomorrow.

But wait, there’s more! We also scheduled another MAHLI observation of the target “Seeley” which is a rock that was broken by the rover’s wheels. That is followed by ChemCam observations of “Coombs”, “Regis”, and “Spotted Bear” and associated Mastcam documentation images.

That means that once planning for today was done, we were both also involved in working on tomorrow’s plan, which will cover the long holiday weekend. We will both be on duty tomorrow in the same roles, polishing the plan we started today and making sure the rover is busy doing good science over the weekend.

By Ryan Anderson

-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 1031: A Dog’s Eye View at Missoula]]> Tue, 30 Jun 2015 00:00:00 -0700  

Sol 1030 Missoula workspace

Today we planned some MAHLI imaging along the contact near the “Missoula” target (the ledge in the upper left portion of this Navcam image).  We refer to it as a dog’s eye mosaic, meaning that we use the MAHLI camera to take a series of images along a vertical face – essentially sticking our nose in there to get a good view.  Hopefully it will provide a good perspective on the contact between the Stimson and Pahrump units!  The plan also includes several ChemCam observations along the contact, at targets named “Selow,” “Clark,” and ldquo;Wapiti.”  We planned these as vertical transects to characterize any changes in chemistry from the Pahrump unit into the Stimson unit.  We’ll also acquire ChemCam data on the target “Seeley” – a broken rock that exposes a fresh surface.  Then we’ll take a Mastcam mosaic to capture the contact and some of the surrounding veins.  Ken Herkenhoff and I were both on duty again today, so it was fun planning here at the USGS.  We put together a really full plan to handover for Sol 1032, so we’re looking forward to some more exciting contact science tomorrow! 

By Lauren Edgar 

--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 1030: Bumping to Missoula]]> Mon, 29 Jun 2015 00:00:00 -0700  

Sol 1028 MAHLI Big Arm

Curiosity is still investigating the contact between the Pahrump and Stimson units.  Over the weekend, Curiosity acquired MAHLI images on a coarse-grained rock named “Big Arm” (above).  The goal today is to characterize some of the veins that occur above and below the contact, and then bump towards a target named “Missoula” to assess the contact at that location. 

The plan today includes ChemCam observations of vein targets named “Lemhi” and “Lowary” corresponding to high and low targets above and below the contact.  We will also acquire Mastcam images of the vein targets using all of the camera filters.  After a short drive to reposition the rover in front of “Missoula,” we’ll take some Navcam and Mastcam images to prepare for contact science tomorrow.  The plan also includes a Navcam cloud movie to monitor the atmosphere.  I was the GSTL today and Ken Herkenhoff was the SOWG Chair, so it was a busy day of rover operations here at the USGS! 

By Lauren Edgar

--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 1027-1029: Resuming tactical operations]]> Fri, 26 Jun 2015 00:00:00 -0700

 

Mars has passed through solar conjunction, and reliable communication with the spacecraft at Mars is possible again.  As planning started this morning, we were still waiting for more data to be relayed by the orbiters to confirm that MSL is ready to resume science planning, but proceeded with tactical planning so that we would be ready when the data arrived.  The Sol 1027 plan starts with Mastcam observations of several targets that were imaged just before solar conjunction, to look for changes caused by winds or maybe Marsquakes.  Mastcam will then look at the sun to measure the amount of dust in the atmosphere, Navcam will search for dust devils, and ChemCam/Mastcam will observe nearby targets "Piegan" and "Wallace."  On Sol 1028, the arm will be used to take MAHLI images of the rocks and soil in front of the rover from various vantage points, to measure changes in their reflectance with observation geometry ("photometry").  After dusk, APXS and MAHLI will measure 3 spots on a rock called "Big Arm" that was imaged by MAHLI during the day before solar conjunction.  The nighttime images, using MAHLI's LEDs for illumination, should nicely complement the daytime images of the rock.  Finishing off the weekend plan, on Sol 1029 ChemCam will acquire some calibration data and Mastcam will take a stereo mosaic of the outcrops to the east of the rover. 

As SOWG Chair today, I was a bit worried about planning so many activities on the first day of tactical planning in a few weeks, but the team hit the ground running and did a great job.  Early this afternoon, we got word from the downlink team that the data acquired during conjunction show that the rover is in good health, and that we were therefore "go" for planning.  MSL is back in action!

by Ken Herkenhoff

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 1003-1004: Last tactical planning before solar conjunction]]> Mon, 01 Jun 2015 00:00:00 -0700

Today is the last day of MSL tactical operations until after solar conjunction, so this will probably be the last MSL update for a few weeks.  Ryan Anderson and I are both on shift as payload uplink lead today, but because the instruments we're representing (ChemCam and MAHLI/MARDI, respectively) are already standing down in preparation for conjunction, our efforts have been focused on planning for the resumption of activities after conjunction.  We don't know precisely when tactical planning will resume, as the ability to communicate with spacecraft as Mars passes behind the Sun depends on variable solar activity.  The expectation is that the next tactical planning day will be June 25th (Sol 1026), but the schedule probably won't firm up until that week. 

The Sol 1003 plan starts with Mastcam images of the Sun to measure the amount of dust in the atmosphere, followed by another set of Mastcam/Navcam photometry images to extend the experiment started on Sol 1000.  Then Mastcam will take images of various targets near the rover, to be compared with images of the same targets taken after conjunction to look for changes caused by winds.  Later in the afternoon, the photometry and change-detection imaging will be repeated, and Mastcam will acquire a stereo mosaic of "Apikuni Mountain."   Then the focus motors of both Mastcams will be moved to their "home" positions for conjunction and Navcam will search for clouds above MSL.  The Sol 1004 plan includes only the usual RAD and REMS observations, a preview of the plan for the next few weeks.  During the break from tactical operations, the science team will have more time to analyze the wealth of data the rover has returned over the past 1000 sols.

by Ken Herkenhoff

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 1000-1002: Photometry]]> Fri, 29 May 2015 00:00:00 -0700  

 

We're planning 3 sols of MSL activities today, starting with Sol 1000!  As we continue to prepare for solar conjunction, arm motion is allowed in this plan, but no contact science.  The plan starts with ChemCam and Mastcam observations of a platy rock called "Newland" and a Navcam search for dust devils.  Then the first of several Mastcam/Navcam photometry observations is planned.  The goal of these images of patches of ground east and west of the rover is to measure reflectivity at various times of day and compare the results with models of the physical properties of the surface.  The arm will then be moved to a position that allows imaging in front of the rover, including a large Mastcam stereo mosaic of the nearby outcrops.  The rover will wake up early on Sol 1001 for another photometry observation, which will be repeated later that morning before Mastcam and Chemcam observations of "Big Arm 2," a potential contact science target.  Three more photometry observations are planned late in the afternoon, before the arm is tucked away for conjunction.  On Sol 1002, Mastcam will observe the Sun during the day, and Phobos after dusk.  It's been a good day for me so far as SOWG Chair--not too hectic but certainly not boring!

by Ken Herkenhoff

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 999: Last MAHLI images before conjunction]]> Thu, 28 May 2015 00:00:00 -0700

Today is the last day we can plan MAHLI activities before the operational stand-down for solar conjunction, to ensure that we have time to confirm that MAHLI's dust cover is safely closed.  So we worked to include as many MAHLI images as possible in the Sol 999 plan, making for a rather hectic day for me as MAHLI uplink lead.  

The plan includes a full set of MAHLI images of a potential DRT target called "Big Arm."  The target dubbed "Wallace" was selected for brushing by the DRT, followed by a full set of MAHLI images of the brushed spot.  The APXS will then be placed on Wallace for overnight integration.  Mastcam multispectral observations of the brushed Ronan target and some rocks broken by one of the wheels (dubbed "Seeley") are also planned--we want to image them before any dust is deposited on those clean surfaces.

by Ken Herkenhoff

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 998: Contact Science at Marias Pass]]> Wed, 27 May 2015 00:00:00 -0700 Mastcam image of Ronan Sol 995

A short bump on Sol 997 put Curiosity in a great position to investigate a few different rock units in Marias Pass, using the instruments on the rover’s arm.  The 2.5 m drive brings our total odometry to 10,599 m.  With the upcoming solar conjunction (Mars will be on the opposite side of the sun from the Earth, so we can’t communicate with the rover for most of the month of June), Curiosity is now parked for the next few weeks.   But we are parked in front of a beautiful outcrop that shows the contact between the underlying Pahrump unit and the overlying Stimson unit.

The goal of today’s plan is to characterize the Stimson unit.  First, Curiosity will acquire ChemCam and Mastcam on part of the Stimson unit called “Ronan” (the large block in the top part of this Mastcam image) as well as a coarse-grained block named “Big_Arm.”  Then we’ll acquire several MAHLI images on “Ronan.”  Next, Curiosity will brush “Ronan” to remove the dust, and will then take MAHLI images of the brushed area to get a better look at the grain size and textures.  And finally, we’ll place APXS on the target to investigate the bulk chemistry of “Ronan.”  Tomorrow’s plan will likely include similar observations on the Pahrump unit.

By Lauren Edgar

--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 997: Preparing for contact science]]> Tue, 26 May 2015 00:00:00 -0700 Sol 995 Pahrump Stimson contact

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.

By Lauren Edgar

--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

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. 

By Lauren Edgar

--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

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.

By Lauren Edgar

--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

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! 

By Lauren Edgar

--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

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. 

by Ken Herkenhoff

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

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. 

By Ryan Anderson

-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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