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Emily LakdawallaNovember 16, 2015

Curiosity update, sols 1109-1165: Drilling at Big Sky and Greenhorn, onward to Bagnold Dunes

This is going to be a rather short update about a rather long period of Curiosity's Mars exploration. Its posting was delayed a bit due to my travel to the Division for Planetary Sciences meeting last week. Since my last update, Curiosity has accomplished the fastest back-to-back pair of drill-and-sample operations of the entire mission, by a long shot.

There are now two new holes in Mars, drilled only 18 sols and just a meter or two apart. The first, Big Sky, sampled the Stimson unit on which Curiosity is now driving. The second, at Greenhorn, was also in the Stimson unit, but this one was within one of the bright haloes around the fractures that criscross Stimson. Here are all of Curiosity's drill holes to date:

Nine Curiosity drill holes on Mars

NASA / JPL / MSSS / Emily Lakdawalla

Nine Curiosity drill holes on Mars
As of November 2015, Curiosity has drilled and sampled at eight locations on Mars. They are (left to right and top to bottom): John Klein, drilled on sol 182; Cumberland, on sol 279; Windjana, on sol 621; Confidence Hills, on sol 759, Mojave, on sol 882; Telegraph Peak, on sol 908; Buckskin, on sol 1060; Big Sky, on sol 1119; and Greenhorn, on sol 1137. All of these images were taken with the MAHLI camera on the end of the arm from a distance of about 5 centimeters. The drill holes are 1.6 centimeters wide.

And here are the two most recent drill holes. Big Sky was drilled on sol 1119 (September 29, 2015), and Greenhorn on sol 1137 (October 18,2015).

Big Sky and Greenhorn drill sites, Stimson unit, Curiosity sol 1142

NASA / JPL / MSSS / Emily Lakdawalla

Big Sky and Greenhorn drill sites, Stimson unit, Curiosity sol 1142
Curiosity drilled at two sites on sols 1119 and 1137: Big Sky (right side) and Greenhorn (left side). Big Sky is in the middle of a typical exposure of the Stimson unit. Greenhorn is located very close to a vein, a location enriched in silica. By drilling these two sites close to each other, the Curiosity team hoped to understand the geologic process responsible for silica enrichment in the area. The photos for this mosaic were captured on October 23, 2015.

This pair of drilling activities sets up a terrific mineralogical experiment. ChemCam data told them that the bright haloes are silica-rich compared to unaltered Stimson. They had already drilled and analyzed a high-silica sample, back at Buckskin. But the geologic context at Buckskin didn't clearly identify whether the silica was a primary feature of the Stimson unit or if it was related to some kind of alteration process. So analyzing the Greenhorn sample and comparing it to Big Sky will help the science team understand what process made those bright haloes. They haven't shared chemical analysis results yet; we might possibly hear about those results at the American Geophysical Union meeting in December, which I'll be attending.

Drilling two holes so closely spaced was tricky in terms of timing. There is a long list of activities that the rover needs to perform in order to document and analyze a sample. Before drilling anything, the sample handling mechanism on the end of the rover's arm has to be empty. Also, arm activities and SAM analyses are energy-intensive, and it was challenging to keep the rover's batteries charged enough to make the most of every sol. During the Big Sky drill session, Mars and Earth time were out of synch, so they were operating on restricted sols, where they only command the rover every other day, three weekdays a week. Being on restricted sols usually seems like a disadvantage, as it slows down drives; but when the rover is sampling, those alternate days when the rover's Earthly team have to command in the blind allow time for SAM and CheMin analyses and battery recharging. Upon arrival at Greenhorn, they were back into daily operations, and it was a complicated puzzle to make the most efficient use of time and energy. They were already at Greenhorn on sol 1127 but still needed to drop a sample off to SAM, analyze it, then dump the remaining sample and clean out the turret to prepare for drilling; they finished those activities on sol 1133 and immediately drilled at Greenhorn the next day.

Sol - Big SkySol - GreenhornActivity
1114 1130 Characterize drill site (brush, MAHLI, APXS, ChemCam, Mastcam)
1116 1134 Mini-drill with MAHLI documentation and APXS
1119 1137 Drill
1120 1141 ChemCam on drill tailings
1121 1139 Deliver to CheMin; Mastcam future dump zone
1122 1140 ChemCam & Mastcam on drill hole; dump sieved sample; Mastcam dump pile
1122 1142 After-dark MAHLI and overnight APXS
1123 1142 Dump pre-sieve (coarse fraction) of sample
1124 & 1126 1143 MAHLI and APXS dump pile
1126 -- MAHLI self-portrait
1126 1139 CheMin analysis
1127 1144 Drive away
1129  ? SAM sample cup preparation
1129 1146 SAM dropoff
1131 1146 SAM analysis
1132 not yet Dump remaining sample
1132 not yet MAHLI and APXS dump pile
1133 not yet Clean out CHIMRA

You can see they only did one self-portrait -- that's because the Greenhorn site was so very close to Big Sky; it wasn't necessary.

Curiosity sol 1126 self-portrait at Big Sky


Curiosity sol 1126 self-portrait at Big Sky
Curiosity took this self-portrait with its arm-mounted MAHLI camera on sol 1126, a few days after drilling in the Stimson unit at Big Sky. The portrait is a mosaic of dozens of images; the arm cannot photograph itself, so is not visible in the composite photo, although its shadow on the ground is.

After wrapping up the drilling and documentation work on sol 1146, they briefly backtracked to a site named Meeteetse, continuing to chase the story of the high silica in the Stimson unit. Project scientist Ashwin Vasavada told me that they had considered drilling at Meeteetse, but finally decided that the geologic context wasn't clear enough there; any mineralogical analysis of a Meeteetse drill site would have had uncertain relationship to the developing story on formation and alteration of Mount Sharp's sedimentary rocks. So they drove onward without drilling.

Phil Stooke's Curiosity route map: Big Sky and Greenhorn (sols 1099-1162)

NASA / JPL / UA / Phil Stooke

Phil Stooke's Curiosity route map: Big Sky and Greenhorn (sols 1099-1162)

Big Sky and Greenhorn were a great science stop. All the instruments are working in concert as they were intended to. Mastcam and ChemCam identified targets of potential mineralogical interest from a distance, setting up efficient drilling. And they worked, again, at Meeteetse, establishing that spending further time wasn't worth it, scientifically. The next likely stop is Bagnold Dunes, which will be a stop of a slightly different kind, because it has more to do with present-day Mars than past Mars. As a reminder, here's a 3D view of the dunefield ahead. Curiosity is aiming for the isolated barchan dune at the center of the top of the map.

3D route map for Curiosity: Across the Bagnold dune field, sols 1153-1487

NASA / JPL / UA / Phil Stooke / Emily Lakdawalla

3D route map for Curiosity: Across the Bagnold dune field, sols 1153-1487

A wide view of Curiosity's future traverse. At full resolution it is 1 meter per pixel. North is about 7 degrees to the left of up. Murray Buttes are at the left of the image, and the dark swath is the Bagnold dune field. Curiosity's route is based on mapping by Phil Stooke. More formats: Left stereo | Right stereo | Flicker gif

The broad strokes of the Bagnold Dunes campaign have already been planned. There is some preparation work to do on the way: since Bagnold is an active dune field, it would be great if the rover could measure wind speed and direction. The rover does have a wind sensor, but one of the two mast-mounted wind-speed booms has not ever worked on Mars, thought to be damaged by a flying rock during landing. The other wind sensor is fine, but one sensor doesn't provide sufficient information to determine the direction of the wind, and therefore its speed readings are of little use. They plan to make the most of the wind sensor at Bagnold, though, and to prepare for that they are parking the rover in a different orientation on each of several nights to develop a calibration data set that may help them interpret wind measurements at the dunes. Two such activities were planned for sols 1162 and 1165.

They will also do a mobility test on the dark Bagnold sand, which is expected to be unlike any sand encountered on Mars before. Inactive martian dunes are coated with bright dust. The active Bagnold dunes are much darker than anything around them, appearing from orbit to have the composition of basaltic rock: olivine and pyroxene crystals. Curiosity has driven a long way to the southwest to avoid having to traverse too much sand, but there will still be some driving on sand in the future, so the rover planners are eager to test out the wheels' performance on this new material. It remains to be seen whether the scientists will also want to sample the sand in a scoop campaign like the one done at Rocknest just after landing. As much fun as it would be to scoop the sand, modern, volcanic-composition sand dunes won't help much in answering the Curiosity mission questions about ancient habitability and preservation of ancient organics, so they may give it a pass in order to speed their arrival at future, more productive science targets.

With the holiday season coming up, this may be my last Curiosity operational update until the new year, but expect a science update following the American Geophysical Union meeting! In the meantime, stay tuned to Midnight Planets for the latest raw images from Curiosity, to JPL's Photojournal for the mission's image releases, and to the United States Geological Survey for daily mission updates. Below please find all the USGS updates for the period covered in this blog post.

Sols 1109-1111 by Ryan Anderson: Contact Science on Bright Outcrop (18 September 2015)

The plan for the weekend is to do a detailed analysis of the outcrop in front of us and then drive away and do some untargeted observations. Sol 1109 includes ChemCam observations of the targets "Cody" and "Leroy", plus a Navcam dust devil search. After that, the rover will brush the dust off of Cody, with MAHLI images before and after. APXS will then analyze the target Ferdig, and then do an overnight observation of Cody.

On sol 1110, we have some more ChemCam on the targets “Meeteetse” and “Fisch Scale”, plus a 10x5 Mastcam mosaic of some interesting nearby ridges, and then a Mastcam multispectral observation of Cody. After that, the plan is to drive about 50 meters and then collect plenty of Navcam images of the new location.

On sol 1111 we will do a bunch of atmospheric observations, including “tau” observations with Mastcam, Navcam movies of the horizon and looking directly overhead, a ChemCam passive observation of the sky, and a DAN passive observation.

Sol 1112-1113 update by Ryan Anderson: Rough Driving (21 September 2015)

The drive on Sol 1111 stopped early after just over 15 meters because we were driving over rough terrain and part of the rover’s suspension exceeded the allowed amount of tilt (this is not a physical limit, just a threshold in the software that tells the rover to stop and check with Earth to be safe). The rover is fine and we plan to drive again in the Sol 1112 plan. Meanwhile we are trying to decide where in the area we want to drill to maximize the science return. There are a lot of options because we’re surrounded by interesting geology!

Before we drive, we have some ChemCam observations of targets “Dakota”, “Conrad”, and “Firemoon”, plus two Mastcam mosaics of a potential drill target. I was on duty as ChemCam sPUL today, so two of the three targets are ones that I chose, which is always fun. I didn’t choose the names (someone else was quicker with the naming list than I was), but I especially like the name “Firemoon”.

After the drive, we have our standard post-drive imaging to allow us to choose targets on Wednesday. On sol 1113 we won’t have the sol 1112 data back yet, so we have some untargeted observations, including some ChemCam passive calibration measurements, DAN passive observation, and a Navcam 8-frame movie looking to the north.

Sols 1114-1115 update by Ken Herkenhoff: Contact science on Big Sky (23 September 2015)

The 14-meter Sol 1112 drive completed as planned, and the rover is in a good position for contact science.  There are flat areas in front of the rover that are suitable for drilling, so the Sol 1114 plan includes DRT brushing, MAHLI imaging, and APXS measurements of a target named "Big Sky."  Before the arm is deployed, ChemCam and Mastcam will observe Big Sky and "Big Rock."  I'm MAHLI/MARDI uplink lead today, so I was busy planning MAHLI images of Big Sky before and after brushing, making sure that the post-brush images will be well illuminated by the sun.  This required working closely with the rover planners as they modeled the illumination of the target with the MAHLI placed close to it.  After the imaging of the brushed spot is completed, the arm will be pushed against the potential drill targets to confirm that they can be drilled, and low-resolution MAHLI images will be taken to look at the imprints of the drill prongs.  The APXS will briefly measure the chemistry of  an area offset a few centimeters from the center of the brush spot, then will be placed on the center of the spot for an overnight integration.

Planning is restricted again, so we planned 2 sols of activities today.  On Sol 1115, Navcam will search for dust devils, ChemCam and Mastcam will observe targets named "Heath," "Leigh," and the distant slopes of Mt. Sharp.  Mastcam will also acquire mosaics of "Amanda" and the "Bagnold Dunes" toward the southwest.

Sols 1116-1118 update by Ryan Anderson: Small drill, Big Sky (25 September 2015)

It’s time to drill again! After much deliberation, we have decided to try drilling the target “Big Sky” at our current location, in hopes of getting a good sample of relatively unaltered bedrock to compare with some of the altered rocks we have seen nearby.

Sol 1116 is dedicated to doing the mini-start hole, which is how we test if the rock is safe to drill. MAHLI will take documentation images before and after, and APXS will analyze the hole overnight.

On Sol 1117, we have a bunch of targeted observations. ChemCam will analyze the targets “Beartooth Pass” and “Bear Trap Canyon”, and Mastcam will take some pictures of two drifted sand targets (“Bozeman” and “Billings” - we’re on a Montana naming theme right now), as well as a 2x1 mosaic of an interesting altered vein, and a 7x1 mosaic of a nearby outcrop. MAHLI will also take some more images of the mini-start hole.

In the morning on Sol 1118, Mastcam and Navcam have some atmospheric monitoring observations. These are repeated at around noon, and then ChemCam will analyze “Beaverhead”, “Birdbear”, and “Buffalo Flat”. Mastcam will take pictures of the mini-start hole, and a 3x1 mosaic to document the location of the ChemCam targets.

Sol 1119-1120 update by Ryan Anderson: "Go" for full drill at Big Sky! (28 September 2015)

As you can see, our mini-drill over the weekend went well, so we are GO for drilling “Big Sky” on sol 1119! The hope is that this location will provide a good sample of the “typical” rock in the area to compare with some of the interesting alteration we’ve been seeing. Along with the drilling, there will be a bunch of MAHLI documentation images of the hole from varying distances and angles.

On sol 1120, ChemCam will target the drill tailings, along with the targets “Devil’s Basin”, “Livingston,” and “Deadwood.” Mastcam will document the drill hole and all of the ChemCam targets. Then, later in the day on sol 1120, Navcam and Mastcam both have some atmospheric observations. And of course, in the background DAN, RAD, and REMS will be doing their routine monitoring as always.

Sol 1121-1122 update by Ryan Anderson: Successful Drill at Big Sky (30 September 2015)

Success! Our drill at “Big Sky” went perfectly! On Sol 1121, the rover will transfer some of the powder from Big Sky to CheMin so that it can begin analyzing the mineralogy of the sample. Also on Sol 1121, ChemCam has an observation of the target “Minnekahta”. Mastcam will document the ChemCam location and also take a picture of the location on the ground where Big Sky material will be dumped.

On Sol 1122, ChemCam has observations of targets “Kippen,” “Kalispell,” and “Big Snowies.” Mastcam will document these targets and take a 4x1 mosaic of the lower portion of Mt. Sharp. Navcam will be used to take a movie about the northern rim of Gale crater to search for any clouds.

We are all eagerly looking forward to the CheMin results from Big Sky to compare with our previous results from “Buckskin”!

Sols 1123-1125 update by Ken Herkenhoff: Drill hole and tailings (2 October 2015)

The weekend plan includes lots of arm activities and science.  First, on Sol 1123, ChemCam and Mastcam will observe the drill hole and tailings, plus targets named "Frontier," "Floweree," "Bozeman," and "Billings."  Then the portion of the sample that has not been sieved will be dumped on the ground and examined by Mastcam.  After dusk, MAHLI will use its LEDs to look inside of the drill hole and image the drill tailings and CheMin inlet, then APXS will be placed over the tailings for an overnight measurement.  Late in the afternoon of Sol 1124, MAHLI will image the pre-sieve dump pile and APXS will be placed over it for another overnight integration.

A SAM atmospheric methane measurement was added early on Sol 1125 because Mars recently went through the path of comet Damocles.  Dust ejected from comets is often carbon-rich, and therefore is a possible source of the elevated methane concentration that has occasionally been observed by SAM.  After all those activities, the rover will sleep through most of Sol 1125 to recharge its batteries in preparation for Sol 1126.

Sol 1126 update by Ken Herkenhoff: MAHLI selfie (5 October 2015)

MSL did well last weekend, but the Sol 1124 MAHLI images of the unsieved part of the drill sample showed that the APXS was not perfectly centered on the dump pile.  Therefore, the Sol 1126 plan includes new MAHLI images and APXS measurements, better centered on the dump pile.  Before the arm activities, ChemCam will acquire passive spectra of part of Mt. Sharp, a 5x1 LIBS raster on "Canadian Creek," and an RMI image of the ChemCam calibration target. Then MAHLI will be used to take another self-portrait of the rover, and the APXS will be placed on the dump pile for an overnight integration. Later in the afternoon, Mastcam will acquire some mosaics and an image of Canadian Creek to provide context for the ChemCam observations. In parallel with the overnight APXS measurements, CheMin will analyze the material from the latest drill hole.

Sol 1127 update by Ken Herkenhoff: Full MAHLI wheel imaging and bump (7 October 2015)

Planning is no longer restricted, but to ensure that Sol 1127 commands are ready to be sent to the rover on time, we had to start planning 1.5 hours earlier than usual this morning.  The Sol 1126 images show that the APXS was well centered over the pre-sieve dump pile, so we are ready to move on.  It's time for a full set of MAHLI wheel images, which dominate the Sol 1127 plan.  After the wheel imaging, there's just enough time for a short drive to another potential drill target and post-drive imaging.  The volume of data expected to be received in time for planning tomorrow is smaller than usual, so we had to carefully consider data priorities.  With luck, we'll receive enough of the post-drive images to select targets for remote sensing tomorrow morning.  Planning will start at 6:30 PDT again tomorrow, so many of us will be getting up before dawn, but it's well worth it to keep the rover going!

Sol 1128 update by Ken Herkenhoff: Twenty Minutes to Mars (8 October 2015)

I got up before dawn again today, and was treated to a beautiful view of the crescent Moon, Venus, Mars, and Jupiter in the eastern sky.  I hadn't seen Mars since it emerged from behind the Sun following solar conjunction last June (it was cloudy yesterday morning), and its dimness reminded me of how far away Mars is right now:  351 million kilometers or 218 million miles.  It takes 20 minutes for commands sent from Earth to get to MSL, at the speed of light, and another 20 minutes for data to be sent back from Mars to Earth.  We've gotten used to communicating with the rover over such great distances, but it's amazing that the link has been so reliable.

The Sol 1127 data received this morning show that the MAHLI wheel imaging and the 7-meter drive completed successfully, and initial analysis of the wheel images show no significant changes in wheel wear.  The drive placed the rover within reach of the fracture of interest, and as predicted we received just enough data to allow us to select remote sensing targets.  So the Sol 1128 plan begins with ChemCam and Mastcam observations of "Benchmark," "Greenhorn," and "Pilgrim" to see if they would be good targets for more detailed investigation.  Later in the day, Navcam will acquire a full panorama and search for dust devils and clouds.  Then MAHLI will be used to take images of Greenhorn and Pilgrim from 35 centimeters away, to help the Rover Planners determine whether they can be drilled.

Sols 1129-1131 update by Lauren Edgar: Assessing “Greenhorn” (9 October 2015)

Curiosity is currently investigating an alteration zone around a fracture.  After a successful drilling investigation at “Big Sky,” Curiosity is now ready to evaluate the alteration zone at “Greenhorn” for comparison.

The weekend plan is a busy one.  The first sol is focused on SAM activities, to prepare a cup to receive the “Big Sky” drill sample, and then to drop off the sample.  On the second sol Curiosity will use the DRT to clear off a fresh surface on "Greenhorn,” which we’ll image with MAHLI.  Overnight, we’ll acquire APXS on “Greenhorn.”  The main activity on the third sol will be CheMin analysis of the “Big Sky” sample.  Throughout the weekend Curiosity will also take standard DAN, RAD and REMS measurements. 

Meanwhile, I’ve been busy on the other side of the planet working MER operations, but I’ll be back on MSL next week so it’s good to keep an eye on all of the action! 

Sol 1132 update by Ken Herkenhoff: Dumping Big Sky sample (12 October 2015)

Columbus Day is a federal holiday, but I'm scheduled as SOWG Chair tomorrow so I'm following Sol 1132 tactical planning and discussions of our goals for Sol 1133.  The SAM analysis of the Big Sky drill sample went well and there is no need for another analysis, so the rest of the sample will be dumped out of CHIMRA on Sol 1132.  MAHLI will take pictures of the dump target before and after the sample is dumped, then APXS will be placed on the dump pile for an overnight integration.  Once CHIMRA is cleaned out, we'll be ready to acquire another drill sample; the team's favorite target for drilling is Greenhorn.

Sol 1133 update by Lauren Edgar: Dump and “Thwack” (13 October 2015)

Sol 1133 activities are dominated by dumping the “Big Sky” sample and “thwacking” CHIMRA (the Collection and Handling for in-Situ Martian Rock Analysis) to clean out any remnants of the sample.  We have to do this in preparation for the next drill sample, which will likely be the “Greenhorn” target in tomorrow’s plan.  In addition to these arm activities, today’s plan includes several ChemCam and Mastcam observations of “Greenhorn” and “Gallatin Pass” to assess chemical variations across a fracture.  

And while Curiosity has been keeping busy on Mars, the science team has been working away here on Earth.  Check out the most recent selfie at “Big Sky” that was just released as well as some exciting results that were just published in Science!

Sol 1134 update by Lauren Edgar: Mini-start hole at “Pilgrim” (14 October 2015)

Curiosity is currently investigating an alteration zone around a fracture, and the plan today is focused on what we call a “mini-start hole.”  Before we do a full drill hole, we do a small test hole to make sure its safe.  The target “Pilgrim” was selected for drilling, located in the middle of this Mastcam image.  Today’s plan also includes MAHLI imaging of “Pilgrim,” both before and after drilling.  Then we’ll place APXS over the target for analysis overnight.  The plan also includes DAN, RAD and REMS measurements.  Data volume and power were issues today, but the team put together a very full plan despite these limitations.  I’ll be on duty as GSTL tomorrow, and it looks like we should have a science block that will allow us to characterize this target with both Mastcam and ChemCam as well.

Sol 1135 update by Lauren Edgar: Sniffing the Martian air (15 October 2015)

The Sol 1134 mini-start hole on “Pilgrim” went well, as seen in the above MAHLI image.  Side note: if that doesn’t look like a hole to you, try rotating the image (the hole is illuminated from the lower left, but the human eye generally prefers to see sunlight coming from the upper half of the image).

Due to power restrictions, we’re waiting until the weekend plan to go for the full drill hole, but that means that today there’s time for a SAM atmospheric observation and a targeted science block.  The goal of the SAM activity is to look for methane, one Mars year after the previous high detections.  So we’ll let SAM take a big whiff to see if we can detect anything.  I was on duty as GSTL today, and we filled the science block with several ChemCam and Mastcam observations.  We’re trying to look for variations in silica associated with the fracture zone that we’re drilling.  We also planned several Mastcam images to look for changes in fine-grained deposits to evaluate local winds.  Despite our power restrictions, planning has been going very smoothly today, and we’re looking forward to more time for science this weekend! 

Sols 1136-1138 update by Lauren Edgar: Drilling at “Greenhorn” (16 October 2015)

Unfortunately the Sol 1135 bundles were not uplinked due to a DSN issue, so the activities that we planned yesterday never made it onboard.  However, that meant that Curiosity spent the day resting and recharging in time for a lot of great science this weekend.

Today’s 3-sol plan will recover most of the activities that were planned for Sol 1135, in addition to the main activity of a full drill hole on the “Greenhorn” target.  On the first sol, Curiosity will acquire several ChemCam and Mastcam observations on the targets “Nisku,” “Skull Creek,” “Hawk Creek,” and “Opeche,” to investigate the variability in silica associated with these fracture zones.  We’ll also take several Mastcam images to look for changes in fine-grained deposits to evaluate local winds.  Overnight, we’ll use MAHLI to image the CheMin inlet in preparation for drilling activities.  On the second sol, we’ll go for the full drill hole on “Greenhorn,” followed by MAHLI imaging of the drill hole.  The third sol consists of several environmental monitoring activities to assess the composition and opacity of the atmosphere.  We’ll also squeeze in some Mastcam observations of the “Big Sky” dump pile and drill tailings using all of the camera filters.  The only activity that we won’t have time for is the SAM atmospheric methane detection, but we’re hoping to get that sometime next week.  I’ll be on duty again on Monday, so I’m looking forward to seeing the results from the latest drill hole!

Sol 1139 update by Lauren Edgar: Another successful drill hole on Mars (19 October 2015)

Over the weekend Curiosity drilled another hole on Mars at the “Greenhorn” target.  Everything went smoothly and we have another beautiful sample to analyze!

Today’s plan is focused on transferring the sample to CheMin, followed by CheMin analysis of the drill sample.  I was on duty as GSTL today, and we also planned several ChemCam and Mastcam observations of the drill hole and surrounding rocks.  First we’ll acquire a ChemCam passive observation of the drill tailings, and take a number of RMI images of the drill hole to help with ChemCam targeting of the drill hole tomorrow.  Then we’ll acquire ChemCam LIBS on the targets “Gypsy,” “Tumbleweed,” and “Wrangle” to assess the variability of silica associated with these fracture zones.  We’ll also take a small Mastcam mosaic to document the ChemCam targets and the local topography, and a Mastcam and Navcam photometry experiment to characterize differences in lighting over the same region at different times of day.  In the afternoon, the “Greenhorn” drill sample will be transferred, sieved, and dropped off to CheMin, and the sample will be analyzed by CheMin overnight.  It will be interesting to see how this sample compares to the “Big Sky” target!

Sol 1140 update by Ken Herkenhoff: Zapping the drill hole wall (20 October 2015)

The ChemCam RMI images of the drill hole planned yesterday were successfully acquired and received, and were used today to plan 2 parallel LIBS rasters down the hole.  The additional LIBS raster should be useful in measuring variations in chemistry among individual sand grains and in detecting thin veins.  ChemCam and Mastcam will also observe a target dubbed "Marshall" to see whether silica enrichment extends along other fractures near the rover.  Finally the SAM methane experiment that was deferred due to an uplink problem last week is scheduled overnight between Sols 1140 and 1141.  This experiment requires a significant amount of power, which will limit the activities that can be planned tomorrow.

Sol 1141 update by Ken Herkenhoff: Recharging batteries (21 October 2015)

There was a problem processing the latest data from MSL at the Deep Space Network station that received it, but the data are now available and confirm that the Sol 1140 activities completed successfully.  As expected, the batteries need to be recharged after the SAM methane experiment, so Sol 1141 activities are limited to a few remote sensing activities.  ChemCam and Mastcam will observe the Greenhorn drill tailings and another bedrock target, called "Fort Conrad."  Besides some recurring observations, that's it for the Sol 1141 plan!  The rover's batteries should be nearly fully charged for Sol 1142 activities.

Sol 1142 update by Ken Herkenhoff: Nighttime imaging (22 October 2015)

The Sol 1141 activities completed as expected, and the rover's batteries are charged up enough to allow both daytime and nighttime activities in today's plan.  First, the unsieved part of the Greenhorn drill sample will be dumped onto the ground and Mastcam and MAHLI will take pictures of the resulting pile.  Then the left Mastcam will acquire a 9x2 mosaic and ChemCam and Mastcam will observe the target "Maywood" to better characterize the variations in silica content near the rover.  After dusk, MAHLI will use its LEDs to take pictures of the walls and bottom of the drill hole.  MAHLI will also take close-up images of the drill tailings and of CheMin's inlet before the APXS is placed over the drill tailings for an overnight integration.

Sols 1143-1145 update by Lauren Edgar: Last observations at Greenhorn and driving away (23 October 2015)

After a successful investigation focused on alteration zones around fractures, it’s time to move on.  We’re still chewing on data from the “Greenhorn” and “Big Sky” drill samples, but we can wrap up a few last observations in this area and drive away in today’s 3-sol plan.

On the first sol, we’ll acquire MAHLI images on the pre-sieve dump pile and the nearby target “Vandalia,” with overnight APXS on the dump pile.  On the second sol, we’ll take a few last Mastcam observations as part of a change detection experiment, and then drive a short distance away.  As we turn and drive away, we’ll acquire a DAN active observation over the “Greenhorn” drill hole.  The goal of the drive is to get to a good overlook to assess the stratigraphy of the “Meeteetse” area.  After the drive we’ll acquire some post-drive imaging to be used for context and future targeting.  After several weeks at “Big Sky” and “Greenhorn”, it feels good to be getting back on the road (and by ‘road’ I mean completely uncharted territory on another planet!).

Sol 1146-1147 update by Ryan Anderson: A View of Meeteetse (26 October 2015)

The weekend drive was successful, placing us nicely on an overlook of the “Meeteetse” area. The focus for Sol 1146 is to get some good color stereo images of the whole area, including “Big Sky,” “Greenhorn,” and “Meeteetse”. Mastcam will take a 16x3 mosaic of the Meeteetse area, plus a 12x1 right-eye mosaic of some nearby resistant ridges. It will also measure the amount of dust in the atmosphere by looking at the sun, and take a documentation image of the target “Belle Fourche” after ChemCam analyzes it. ChemCam also has a “passive sky” observation, where we use the ChemCam spectrometers to stare at the sky and measure the abundance of gases in the atmosphere.

On Sol 1147, the main activity is to deliver some of the material sampled at the “Greenhorn” drill hole to the SAM instrument, and then run a SAM evolved gas analysis and tunable laser spectrometer (EGA/TLS) experiment on the sample. This involves heating the sample gradually and measuring the gases that are produced as it breaks down.

Sols 1148-1152 update from Ryan Anderson: Driving and Contact Science (30 October 2015)

Apologies for the lack of an update on Wednesday this week! Lauren and I were both in a training class, and Ken was traveling so none of us were able to post here. That means that today’s post covers five sols of planning! 

The sol 1148 plan started off with a Mastcam observation of the target McLeod and a 10x1 mosaic to patch a gap in the mosaic from sol 1144. After that, we drove for 32 meters, followed by standard post-drive imaging. On Sol 1149, ChemCam did a bunch of calibration observations and Navcam and Mastcam did some standard atmospheric observations.

The drive on Sol 1148 put us in range of some interesting rocks, and the Sol 1150-1152 plan is focusing on analyzing our new surroundings. On Sol 1150, Mastcam has an 8x4 mosaic of some interesting layered rocks, followed by ChemCam and Mastcam observations of the targets “Dunkirk” and “Duperow”. After the remote sensing is done, there are three APXS observations of the targets “Exshaw”, “Ellis Canyon”, and “Ennis”. 

On Sol 1151, Mastcam has an 18x2 mosaic of the “Carlile” area and a 9x2 mosaic of the “East Glacier” target. This is followed by ChemCam observations of Ennis and Exshaw and the accompanying Mastcam documentation images. In the afternoon on Sol 1151, there will be a short drive to the southeast which should provide data to allow a longer drive in the next plan. Finally, on Sol 1152, the plan is to do Navcam, Mastcam, and ChemCam atmospheric observations, plus some ChemCam focus tests.

Sol 1153-1154 by Ryan Anderson: Driving Around East Glacier (2 November 2015)

The short drive over the weekend went well, putting us in a good position for a longer drive in today’s plan. Before we drive, ChemCam will analyze the targets “Tampico”, “LaValle”, and “Muddy” to determine if their apparent variations in brightness in the Navcam images correspond to a variation in chemistry. Mastcam will take documentation images of the ChemCam targets, plus a 13x3 mosaic of the resistant outcrop “East Glacier” and its surroundings. 

After the drive, which will take us past and around “East Glacier” and the dark material behind it, we will do our standard post-drive imaging. This week is a bit tricky because Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) is in (intentional) Safe Mode for most of the week, meaning Curiosity can’t send as much data back to Earth. So, it’s possible that the post-drive imaging that we usually use to target ChemCam won’t come down in time to choose targets on Wednesday. If that happens, we’ll have to make do with the Hazcam images.

On Sol 1154, we are planning a ChemCam passive sky observation, plus Navcam movies to watch for clouds and dust devils. Mastcam will do a routine “clast survey” observation, plus a 27x2 mosaic to document the geology from our new location, and a MAHLI image of the ground underneath the rover.

Sol 1155-1156 update by Ryan Anderson: Limited Downlink (4 November 2015)

Today’s planning was a bit challenging because we only got a few Navcam images down to show us possible science targets, which limited our choices for ChemCam observations. We are all looking forward to Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) waking up from the intentional “safe mode” status that it has been in this week! Still, even with limited data we were able to put together a good plan.

On Sol 1155, ChemCam will observe the targets “Thermopolis” and “Pinckney” to get measurements of the typical bedrock and typical soil or sand in the area, plus a long-distance image of one of the sand dunes that we are approaching. ChemCam will also do a focus test observation that was originally planned for last weekend, but which did not get uplinked because of a problem with the Deep Space Network. Mastcam will take documentation images of the two ChemCam targets and the distant sand dune, plus a 13x3 mosaic of a nearby outcrop. After that, the rover will drive and take standard post-drive images.

On Sol 1156, we have a pretty light day. There are no geology observations, but several environmental and atmospheric measurements, including a couple Mastcam taus to measure the amount of dust in the atmosphere, some DAN observations, and a Navcam movie to look for clouds. MARDI also has a post-drive image of the ground under the rover.

I’ve been “Keeper of the Plan” for the Geology and Mineralogy group today and Monday, but I’ll be switching over to ChemCam uplink for Friday. The weekend plan looks like it will be focused on contact science, but we should be able to fit some ChemCam in there too!

Sol 1157-1159 update by Ryan Anderson: A Busy Weekend on Mars (6 November 2015)

Whew! It’s going to be a busy weekend on Mars! The Sol 1157 plan starts off with an activity to test out AEGIS, a software tool that will help with choosing targets for ChemCam and Mastcam. The AEGIS activity will take ChemCam images of two targets: “Ashley Lakes” and “Amsden”. That is followed by a ChemCam observation of the target “Augusta”. Mastcam will take supporting images of Ashley Lakes and Amsden, plus an image of “Dodd Ranch” and two mosaics: a 3x2 and a 9x2.

Once the remote sensing is done, the arm will get a workout. MAHLI and Mastcam have some images of the sky to help with calibration, and then MAHLI will take some images of its own calibration target and the APXS calibration target. After that, MAHLI will take some images of the wheels, and then APXS will measure its calibration target. Once that is finished, we will brush the dust off of the target Augusta, take some Mastcam and MAHLI images of it, and then place APXS on it to make some measurements on and off the brushed spot.

On Sol 1158 the rover will drive to a location that looks to be a nice viewpoint, and that will be followed by standard post-drive images, including a 27x2 360 degree panorama with Mastcam. On Sol 1159, Mastcam has a tau observation to measure the amount of dust in the atmosphere, and Navcam has a couple of movies to watch for clouds and dust devils. Later in the day, Mastcam will do another tau, and ChemCam will make a measurement of its titanium calibration target.

Sols 1160-1161 update by Ken Herkenhoff: Brandberg (9 November 2015)

The 68-meter drive planned for Sol 1158 completed as planned, placing the rover near a dark, circular feature named "Brandberg."  The tactical operations team studied the images of Brandberg and discussed the value of contact science observations in this area, ultimately deciding to drive on toward the Bagnold Dunes.  But before leaving, ChemCam and Mastcam will observe targets "Hoba" and "Gibeon" on the Brandberg feature, which appears to be a remnant of a deposit that has been mostly eroded away.  Observations of targets "Bogenfels" and "Roter Kamm" are also planned, to better understand the rocks upon which the Brandberg material was deposited, as well as another test of the AEGIS software.  Mastcam will also acquire mosaics of other interesting features before the Sol 1160 drive, including a sandy ripple named "Elim."  The Sol 1161 plan is relatively simple, with the usual DAN, REMS, and RAD background observations along with a ChemCam measurement of the atmosphere over the rover.

Sols 1162-1163 update by Ken Herkenhoff: Approaching Bagnold Dunes (11 November 2015)

Today is a holiday for some of us, but not the MSL tactical operations team!  The 55-meter drive planned for Sol 1160 completed as planned, and another 41-meter drive is planned for Sol 1162.  Before the next drive, Mastcam and ChemCam will observe a small, sandy drift named "Arris" and a bedrock target dubbed "Tsumeb."  Mastcam will also acquire two mosaics, one of nearby outcrops and one of more distant rocks.  The drive should place the rover between two of the Bagnold Dunes, so the vehicle will turn to a heading that will maximize the chances of acquiring good REMS measurements of wind speed and direction.  This observation is part of the dune study campaign that has been developed over the past year, with an overall goal of better understanding how winds on Mars form and modify dunes.  Observations of the dunes from orbit show that they are active, so many members of the MSL science team are looking forward to detailed measurements of the winds and their effects on the sand dunes and nearby terrain, as winds are currently the most significant agent of erosion on Mars.  On Sol 1163, Mastcam will take pictures of the rover deck to allow tracking of changes in the distribution of dust and sand on the top of the vehicle, and image the sun to measure the amount of dust in the atmosphere.  Navcam will also observe the sky and search for dust devils.

Sols 1164-1165 update by Ken Herkenhoff: Brushing "Swartkloofberg" (13 November 2015)

The rover drove over 38 meters on Sol 1162, as expected.  We are transitioning out of restricted planning, so only 2 sols are being planned for this weekend.  There were so many good ideas for activities this morning that the team had to decide which to remove from the plan to leave enough charge in the rover's batteries to enable nominal planning on Monday.  Still, the plan is a very full one:  On Sol 1164, ChemCam and Mastcam will observe one of the Bagnold Dunes that is a near-term goal for detailed investigation, plus other more nearby targets called "Swakop" and "Zaris."  After another AEGIS checkout activity, the arm will be deployed to take a MAHLI image of the REMS UV sensor and of a rock dubbed "Swartkloofberg."  Then the DRT will brush the dust off Swartkloofberg and MAHLI will acquire mosaics of the brushed spot and of Swakop before the APXS is placed on the brushed spot for an overnight integration.

On Sol 1165, the arm will be stowed and the rover will drive farther south, again orienting the vehicle for REMS wind measurements.  After sunset, SAM will clean its scrubbers, an engineering activity that has been performed twice before.  Finally, the rover will go to sleep and recharge in preparation for the next sol's activities.

Read more: pretty pictures, mission status, Mars, Curiosity (Mars Science Laboratory)

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Emily Lakdawalla

Senior Editor and Planetary Evangelist for The Planetary Society
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