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[Sun-starved Opportunity in 'coma' waiting out the storm]]> Thu, 14 Jun 2018 00:00:00 -0700 A massive Martian dust storm has prevented the solar-powered Opportunity rover from going about her daily work as robot field geologist. Dust blocking the sunlight is to blame, and the reason the Mars Explorer Rover is on hiatus. Much like a car needs gas to function, Opportunity needs the sun’s energy to bring her out of deep sleep. But the dust storm has progressed and blotted out the sun’s light to her solar panels.

map of storm

This global map shows the growing dust storm on Mars on June 6, 2018. The map was produced by the Mars Color Imager camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft. The blue dot indicates the aprroximate location of Opportunity.

On June 1, the duststorm was visibly opaque. By June 10, the duststorm covered 14-million square miles of the Red Planet with little sunlight.

illus.ofstorm
This series of images show simulated views of a darkening Martian sky blotting out the Sun from NASA’s Opportunity rover’s point of view, with the right side simulating Opportunity’s current view the global dust storm (June 2018). Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/TAMU.

Not Quite Nail-biting Worry but Operations Group is Concerned

The team last heard from Opportunity on sol 5111; it is possible that she is in low power fault mode. A low power fault occurs when the sun isn’t capable of providing enough energy to bring the rover out of deep sleep. In deep sleep, the batteries are disconnected, and the mission clock checks daily whether the rover can wake up. If the battery voltage is below 27 V, Opportunity will remain in deep sleep; this could be occurring now. All subsystems are shut down except the mission clock.

“At this point we’re in a waiting mode, listening every day for possible signals from the rover,” said John Callas, Mars Exploration Rover Project Manager.

Opportunity is equipped with heaters in the Rover Electronics Module to keep it warm but the REM temperature must be below -40°C to activate the heaters. Because it is spring, temperatures are not expected to drop this far, so they likely won’t turn on. Should the rover stay warm enough, there is little to fear. Engineers hope the storm will provide some atmospheric insulation against the planet’s dramatic daily temperature swings, Callas said.

Opportunity Team Proud of the Rover--No Matter What

Opportunity has been trekking more than 5000 sols (Mars days) even though it was expected to survive only 90 sols. If Opportunity wakes after the dust storm has abated,  she will be commanded to continue work where she left off—halfway down in "Perseverance Valley" on the west rim of Endeavour Crater—in search of evidence for the valley's origin: water, wind, tectonics, or a combination of all three.  

More information can be found here.


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<![CDATA[Sol 2082: A New MAHLI Selfie]]> Thu, 14 Jun 2018 00:00:00 -0700

The investigation of the Duluth drill hole is going well, and is expected to continue on Sol 2082.  First, MAHLI will take a picture of the drill tailings to look for an imprint of the APXS contact sensor, then will acquire another rover "selfie."  The major dust storm that caused the solar-powered Opportunity rover, on the other side of Mars, to shut down has somewhat darkened the skies over Gale Crater, but is not expected to seriously affect MSL operations.  Still, there is great interest in the environmental effects of the dust storm, so the Sol 2082 plan includes more Navcam and Mastcam observations of atmospheric dust and Right Mastcam images intended to detect changes due to winds.  ChemCam will also measure the elemental chemistry of the material in the sample dump pile, if the wind hasn't blown the pile away by then!  Finally, MAHLI will take images of the calibration targets on the front of the rover to monitor camera performance. 

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[Name Approved For Feature on Mars: Aeolis Chaos]]> Wed, 13 Jun 2018 00:00:00 -0700 Aeolis Chaos for a feature on Mars. For more information, see Mars map MC-23 in the Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature.]]> <![CDATA[Flagstaff research geologist returns from Kilauea]]> Thu, 31 May 2018 00:00:00 -0700

 

Elise Rumpf, of the USGS Astrogeology Science Center, politely poses for a photo just after returning from Hawaii, and minutes before an interview with KTVK 12 News. Find out first-hand what she was doing on the Big Island regarding the active Kilauea volcano with its recent succession of eruptions and earthquakes: Flagstaff research geologist returns from Kilauea.

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<![CDATA[Sol 2073: Another CheMin Analysis]]> Tue, 05 Jun 2018 00:00:00 -0700

The focus of MSL operations continues to be on the analysis of the Duluth drill sample.  The latest SAM EGA was scheduled for the evening of Sol 2072, so the results of that analysis have not been received yet.  Both SAM and CheMin analyses require significant power, and can therefore not typically be scheduled on the same day.  So today it's CheMin's turn to analyze the the Duluth sample again, to improve the statistics of the X-ray diffraction measurements.  The uplink team was also able to squeeze in a few daytime observations before the overnight CheMin analysis:  Right Mastcam images of Noodle Lake, the Duluth drill tailings, and the portion drop area to look for changes due to winds, Mastcam images of the Sun to measure dust opacity, and a Navcam zenith movie to look for clouds.  These observations should be helpful in determining the frequency, strength, and direction of winds near the surface and high above the rover.  Such information will be very useful if the science team decides to drop another sample portion into either CheMin or SAM using the new sample transfer technique, as high winds can disperse the portion before it makes it into the instruments.

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[Five Names Approved for Craters on Mars]]> Fri, 01 Jun 2018 00:00:00 -0700 McCauley, Batson, Jori, Nako, and Salkhad. For more information, see Mars map MC-21 in the Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature.]]> <![CDATA[Name Approved for Feature on Pluto: Hekla Cavus]]> Wed, 30 May 2018 00:00:00 -0700 Hekla Cavus for a feature on Pluto. For more information, see the map of Pluto in the Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature.]]> <![CDATA[Sols 2061-2062: Time to feed CheMin]]> Wed, 23 May 2018 00:00:00 -0700 Sol 2058 Mastcam of Duluth drill hole

After successfully drilling the “Duluth” target on Sol 2057 (as seen in the above Mastcam image), the science team is eager to find out what it’s made of.  As SOWG Chair today, it was exciting to plan the drop-off of material to CheMin and overnight CheMin analysis.  Hopefully we’ll get some good data about the mineralogy of this sample! 

In addition to the CheMin activities, the team planned another ChemCam observation of the “Duluth” drill hole, and nearby bedrock and vein targets named “Prosit” and “Grand Marais.”  On Monday we delivered three portions of the drill material to a nearby rock surface, and in today’s plan we’re monitoring those piles to see if any of the fines are moving in the wind.  We’ll also check for changes in a sandy ripple named “Esko.”  Both change detection observations will be repeated on the second sol, along with a Mastcam mosaic to provide more context for this drill location.  The environmental theme group also planned a couple of Navcam dust devil observations, a Mastcam tau, and a Mastcam crater rim extinction activity to monitor dust in the atmosphere.

Looking forward to finding out what this rock is made of!

By Lauren Edgar

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 2063-2066: Sample drop-off testing]]> Fri, 25 May 2018 00:00:00 -0700 Sol 2059 Mastcam

Some of the Duluth drill sample was dropped into CheMin on Sol 2061, but not enough for a proper mineralogical analysis. So the top priority for today's plan is to again test the new drop-off procedure. Since the drill feed mechanism became unreliable over a year ago, drill samples can no longer be sieved and processed in CHIMRA, as they were earlier in the mission. Instead, portions of the sample must be dropped from the tip of the drill directly into the analytical instruments. This new Feed-Extended Sample Transfer (FEST) procedure will be repeated on Sol 2064, over bedrock and over the closed SAM inlet cover. Mastcam images will be taken both before and after the drop-off in both locations, to allow the size of the sample portion to be estimated. The results of these tests will be used to inform future drop-off planning.

We're planning 4 sols today so that the tactical operations team can take a day off for the Memorial Day holiday. More change detection observations are scattered throughout the plan, with Right Mastcam images of dark sand ripples at "Noodle Lake" and the Duluth drill tailings on Sol 2063 at 11:00, 15:00 and 17:00, on Sol 2064 at 7:00 and noon, and on Sol 2065 at 7:00, ~11:00, noon, and 15:00. The goal of these observations is to constrain the frequency of wind gusts that are strong enough to move loose material. The Rover Planners also requested multiple Right Mastcam images of the sample drop-off location on nearby bedrock for the same purpose; these are scheduled in the afternoons of Sols 2063, 2065, and 2066. ChemCam will also be busy this weekend, measuring the chemistry of a bumpy bedrock target named "Brule Mountain" and layered bedrock targets "Devil Track" and "Devilfish Tower" on Sol 2063. The latter two targets will be captured in a single Right Mastcam image soon afterward. On Sol 2064, ChemCam will observe some pebbles dubbed "Paupores" and Right Mastcam will acquire a single image covering both Brule Mountain and Paupores. Early on Sol 2065, Mastcam and Navcam will measure the amount of dust in the atmosphere, and Navcam will search for clouds. Later that morning, Right Mastcam will take a picture of a nearby bedrock block dubbed "Deerwood." In the afternoon, Mastcam will image the Sun and sky to measure the scattering properties and size distribution of dust in the atmosphere over Gale Crater, with supporting Navcam imaging.

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 2049-2051: Onward and northward]]> Fri, 11 May 2018 00:00:00 -0700 Sol 2047 Mastcam

Curiosity is currently investigating the Blunts Point member of the Murray formation, and searching for a suitable location to drill in the near future.  I was the SOWG Chair today, and we put together a busy weekend plan focused on wrapping up contact science at our current location and driving further north into the Blunts point member.

The plan starts with a ChemCam water adsorption experiment to look for seasonal variations in hydrogen in the soil at different times of day.  On the first sol we also planned some juicy contact science: a MAHLI “dogs eye” image looking edge-on at the “Culver” target (seen in the above Mastcam image) to assess the relationship between veins and bedding, followed by DRT, MAHLI, and APXS on typical bedrock at the “Floodwood” target, and additional MAHLI and APXS on the “Carleton” target to look for variations in chemistry.  Just as Curiosity wraps up the overnight APXS integration on “Floodwood,” we’ll put her back to work with another early morning ChemCam water adsorption observation.  Around midday on the second sol we’ll take several Mastcam multispectral images to document the Sols 2048-2049 DRT targets, along with a ChemCam passive sky observation and documentation images of the ChemCam targets.  We’ll also acquire ChemCam LIBS on the target “Mountain Iron” to assess the composition of dark nodules.  The third sol is focused on a ~10 m drive to the north and post-drive imaging to prepare for contact science or bumping to a drill location next week.  We were a bit tight on data volume in this plan due to some small downlink volumes lately, but hopefully by keeping our data appetite in check we’ll be in good shape for the exciting activities coming up soon! 

By Lauren Edgar

--Lauren is a Research Geologist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center and a member of the 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 2048: Successful Bump]]> Thu, 10 May 2018 00:00:00 -0700

Today is the third and final day that I'm serving as SOWG Chair this week at JPL, and I was happy to see that the bump we originally planned for Sol 2046 completed successfully on Sol 2047, placing the rover in a good position for contact science on a couple of bright blocks in front of the rover.  So we're planning to brush two targets on the larger block, named "Bilbert" and "Giants Range," before MAHLI images them and APXS measures their chemistry at night.  Before the arm activities, ChemCam will shoot its laser at Giants Range and targets "Vermillion" and "Lac La Croix" on nearby blocks.  Because the stowed arm partly blocks our view of the part of the arm workspace closest to the rover, we'll acquire a Navcam stereo pair and a single Left Mastcam color image of that area after the arm is deployed.  These images will be useful in planning more contact science this weekend.

As always, I've enjoyed working in person at JPL this week.  It's nice to see familiar faces again, and to meet others who I've only heard on the phone before. 

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[Create High Quality DTMs]]> Tue, 08 May 2018 00:00:00 -0700 A digital terrain model (DTM) is a digital representation of the elevation of a planetary surface. Members of the Astrogeology Team produce DTMs of different bodies in the solar system to address questions about how landscapes formed or changed over time, and to identify safe landing sites for robotic missions. One method of producing DTMs involves using a pair of images collected by a satellite of the same area on the ground from two different angles to create a stereo view. Specialized software is then used to match identical features in each image and extract a three-dimensional location based on the geometric relationship between the images. Astrogeology Team member, David Mayer, recently presented a poster at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in The Woodlands, Texas on how to produce DTMs of Mars using the free Ames Stereo Pipeline software. The poster and accompanying abstract focus on creating high-quality DTMs for geologic research from images collected by the CTX camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The poster and abstract are available here: https://www.lpi.usra.edu/publications/absearch/?meeting=574&abstract_no=1604 : “An Improved Workflow for Producing Digital Terrain Models of Mars from CTX Stereo Data Using the NASA Ames Stereo Pipeline,” D. P. Mayer, 49th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (2018), Abstract #1604.

Photo of CTX DTM made using the method outlines in David's abstract/poster. Photo Credit: David Mayer (Astrogeology Team).

 

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<![CDATA[InSight Mars Lander to Launch on May 5]]> Fri, 04 May 2018 00:00:00 -0700 NASA’s InSight Mars Lander is scheduled to launch on May 5 from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and expected to land on Mars, Nov. 26, north of the Martian equator. In just five months, InSight, Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, will study the deep interior of Mars to figure out how rocky planets are formed. The lander's instruments include a seismometer to detect marsquakes, and a probe that will monitor the flow of heat from the planet's interior.

llustration of NASA's Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) Credit: NASA

Find out more here.

 

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<![CDATA[Names Approved for Three Faculae on Mercury]]> Tue, 01 May 2018 00:00:00 -0700 Gata Facula, Nakahi Facula, and Amaru Facula. For more information, see Mercury map H-14 in the Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature.]]> <![CDATA[Name Approved for Feature on Pluto: Baret Montes]]> Thu, 26 Apr 2018 00:00:00 -0700 Baret Montes for a feature on Pluto. For more information, see the map of Pluto in the Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature.]]>