Sol 50 Update on Curiosity from USGS Scientist Ken Herkenhoff: Windblown Ripple Observations25 September 2012
Yet another good drive on Sol 49, leaving the rover right next to a windblown ripple (right of center). It doesn't look like much, but it's the first one we've been close to so it was the target of ChemCam and Mastcam observations planned for Sol 50. We are currently searching for a larger ripple or windblown drift for the first use of MSL's scoop, and these observations should help us determine how suitable such a ripple would be for scooping. The goal is to find a fine-grained deposit that can be "fed" to the mechanism on the arm that will be used to crush and sort samples before they are delivered to the mineralogy and chemistry experiments inside the rover. Processing a sandy sample will not only test this mechanism, it will sweep out any terrestrial contamination still remaining in it. The entire rover was carefully cleaned before launch, but it is very difficult to remove all traces of Earth, so passing Martian soil through the mechanism will "clean" it out.
Another drive was planned for Sol 50, after the ripple observations. The Geology Theme Group focused on post-drive imaging, working with the Rover Planners to get the images they need to plan the following drive. We planned full 360-degree Navcam and Mastcam panoramas from the new location, which should allow us to pick a good soil target for scooping. Only the Navcam (wide-angle) images will be received in time to be used for planning Sol 51 observations, so we will use those images to determine which of the Mastcam images should be sent to Earth right away. If we see a good ripple or fine-grained soil patch nearby, we will probably drive over to it and scoop it up.