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Emily LakdawallaApril 25, 2017

Curiosity update, sols 1600-1674: The second Bagnold Dunes campaign

The last time we checked in on our intrepid rover, it had driven on from an intended drill site at Precipice without drilling, and was approaching the southern stretch of the Bagnold dunes for a scooping and science campaign. The dune science campaign offered the engineers some time to continue troubleshooting the drill without any pressure to use it for science. They checked the dune out at four different locations, and scooped sand at a site called Ogunquit Beach.

Now the dune campaign is complete, but work on the drill problem continues, and unexpected behavior of the drill triggered by the use of the sampling tools to prepare Ogunquit Beach sand for delivery to the analytical instruments interrupted the sample delivery. The rover is driving onward with Ogunquit Beach sample cached, and the lab instrument teams are hopeful they'll still be able to receive the sample.

The drilling and sample problems are worrisome, but there's also excitement as the rover has finally crossed the dunes and now has a clear path ahead of it to Vera Rubin Ridge -- the mission's new name for what has been known as Hematite Ridge. Only about a kilometer of driving remains to get the rover to a destination that's been anticipated since before the landing.

For context for this post, here's a wide view of the area of Bagnold Dunes where Curiosity made its crossing. In yellow are the drill sites; Precipice, in orange, was the failed attempt at drilling. The blue numbers (1, 2, 3, and 4) show the four stops on the second Bagnold Dune science campaign. At bottom right is a north-projecting segment of Vera Rubin Ridge.

Context map for Curiosity's southern dune campaign

NASA / JPL / UA / Emily Lakdawalla

Context map for Curiosity's southern dune campaign
HiRISE image of the Bagnold dunes region, showing the locations where Curiosity drilled (yellow). White text are place names; orange text is a failed drilling site. Blue numbers correspond to the stops in Curiosity's second dune campaign.

And here's a closer view, as ever, from Phil Stooke.

Phil Stooke's Curiosity route map #38: Ireson Hill, Ogunquit Beach and southern Bagnold dunefield (sols 1576-1671)

NASA / JPL / UA / Phil Stooke

Phil Stooke's Curiosity route map #38: Ireson Hill, Ogunquit Beach and southern Bagnold dunefield (sols 1576-1671)

The Dune Campaign

The Bagnold Dunes have a variety of forms depending on where they lie with respect to Mount Sharp and its winds. Where Curiosity first encountered them, in the north, they formed crescent-shaped barchan dunes. Barchans form where winds predominantly blow in one direction and sand supply is limited. Their convex curves face upwind, and their concave slopes face downwind. Their presence tells at the northern margin of Bagnold Dunes you that the wind in that area blows dominantly from north to south, from the lowest-elevation part of the crater toward the mountain.

In the southern reaches of the dune field, Curiosity found something different, linear-shaped dunes. Usually on Earth, linear dunes are transverse dunes -- their crests are perpendicular to the wind. They can form where wind blows dominantly in one direction and there is plentiful sand. But Curiosity scientists suspected that the southern dune field was made of longitudinal or seif dunes, ones that form in a place where the wind regularly switches direction. Longitudinal dunes run parallel to the average wind direction, shaped in place by winds alternately blowing from one way and then the other across their crests. I hadn't heard of these kinds of dunes before I encountered them in explanations for Titan's "cat scratches"! For more on dunes on Mars and Titan, read this guest blog by Nathan Bridges.

Mount Sharp and southern Bagnold Dunes

NASA / JPL / MSSS / Damia Bouic

Mount Sharp and southern Bagnold Dunes
As Curiosity approached the southern, more linear stretch of the Bagnold dunefield, it captured a panoramic view. In front of the rover is a section of what may be a longitudinal dune, but from the rover's perspective it's a nondescript, rippled sheet of sand.

To test the longitudinal-dune hypothesis, the scientists wanted to study both sides of the dune and the crest, to compare grain sizes and ripple morphology and to watch how the wind blows sand around. As they did at their first dune stop at Gobabeb, they would scuff the southern dune to see if it was the same on the inside as the outside, and sample some dune sand to study its composition. Stops 1, 2, and 3 on the map above explored the north face, crest, and south face of one of the dunes.

HiRISE view of Curiosity at Patch Mountain, sol 1612

NASA / JPL / UA / Emily Lakdawalla

HiRISE view of Curiosity at Patch Mountain, sol 1612
The HiRISE camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter captured this view of Curiosity skirting around the edge of a sand dune on February 20, 2017. The rover was approaching the second stop of a four-stop tour of the southern portion of the Bagnold dunes.

Here is a look at some of the sand from the four different stops. All the visible sand grains are under a millimeter in diameter, which classifies it as fine sand.

Four stops' worth of sand from Curiosity's second Bagnold campaign

NASA / JPL / MSSS / Emily Lakdawalla

Four stops' worth of sand from Curiosity's second Bagnold campaign
During early 2017 Curiosity stopped at four positions within the southern Bagnold dune field to investigate how the sand varied from place to place in the dune system. All four of these images are shown at the same scale; each shows an area about 13 millimeters across. Top left: Stop 1, sol 1603. Top right: Stop 2, sol 1618. Lower left: Stop 3, sol 1637. Lower right: Stop 4, sol 1650. Be aware when comparing the four images that each was taken under different solar illumination conditions, making color comparisons difficult.

When it was time to sample, they drove across to a different site (stop 4) so they could face upwind into the dune. That's because they noticed that bits of bedrock were getting ripped up and incorporated into the upwind side of the dune face at stops 1 through 3, and they wanted to try to get a sample of unadulterated sand. They planned to scoop several times at Ogunquit Beach, with basically the same set of experiments they ran at Gobabeb, but then they ran into trouble.

Drill Troubleshooting

Ashwin Vasavada explained to me that there's no new problem, exactly -- the situation is similar to what it was before, and engineers continue to suspect that either there is some piece of debris floating around deep inside the drill feed actuator or there is some misalignment of a part of the actuator, causing an intermittent problem with releasing the brake to run the motor. Over the last two months engineers have been very carefully exploring use of the drill feed across many variables -- voltage applied to the brake, use of one brake or two, and current applied to the motor. Use of vibration within the sampling mechanism sometimes seemed to make things worse and sometimes cleared the problem somewhat. It wasn't predictable, which was annoying.

The engineers were getting close to recommending a set of parameters to use to try to get the drill feed working again, when they scooped at Ogunquit Beach and sieved the sample, which requires about 15 minutes of vibration with a motor inside the sampling mechanism. And the brake started acting worse. Now, given past behavior, more use of the vibration mechanism could do what it has in the past, and clear things somewhat. But it was a marked enough change that the Curiosity project halted sampling activity. The mission decided that sticking around at Ogunquit Beach to wait out further troubleshooting wasn't worth it scientifically, and elected to drive on. The team homes to deliver the cached sample to SAM and CheMin at some point down the road.

MAHLI Anomaly

One other mechanical issue worried the mission during this period, but it has been resolved. On sol 1619, the MAHLI cover failed to open completely -- it stopped when the rover sensed that the motor was drawing more current than usual when trying to open, a sign that something could be stuck. This could have been the sign of a fatal problem for MAHLI, because the instrument has only one motor that both opens/closes the cover and focuses the camera. Fortunately, after a nervous weekend they got the cap closed properly. As of sol 1632, MAHLI is back in business, operating normally (and frequently). I haven't heard a detailed explanation for what was wrong, but given the windy and sandy environment, a possibility is that a grain of sand got caught in the lens cover hinge and has since fallen back out again.

Red rocks

The bedrock that Curiosity is now driving into is really interesting-looking. Frustrating as it is that the rover can't currently sample, it is keeping its other instruments busy -- Mastcams for color imaging, MAHLI for close-up views of rocks and sand and veins, ChemCam and APXS for measuring rock compositions, MARDI for watching wind blow sand around beneath the rover, and even DAN -- part of which is living on borrowed time, its neutron generator about a factor of two past its warranted life -- is getting a workout.

Rock target

NASA / JPL / MSSS / Paul Hammond

Rock target "Third Lake," Curiosity sol 1612
A block of bedrock with a red color has lighter-colored edges, likely caused by fluids circulating within fractures in the rock either depositing new minerals or leaching out others. On the left side, a bright material, probably calcium sulfate, fills the ancient fracture.
Rock target

NASA / JPL / MSSS / Paul Hammond

Rock target "Canada Falls," Curiosity sol 1634
Curiosity examined Canada Falls with the MAHLI camera on the end of the arm on sol 1634 (March 12, 2017). The rock may record a dry lakebed period within Gale crater. The view is a mosaic of three MAHLI observations.
Two colorful rock targets south of Bagnold Dunes, Curiosity sol 1666

NASA / JPL / MSSS / LANL / Paul Hammond

Two colorful rock targets south of Bagnold Dunes, Curiosity sol 1666
Curiosity's Mastcam and ChemCam pointed at two locations on a wind-eroded outcrop on sol 1666 to examine whether the rock's color changes meant changes in composition. These fine-grained sedimentary rocks formed at a time when Gale crater held a lake.

Next stop: Vera Rubin Ridge, formerly known as Hematite Ridge.

The road ahead, Curiosity sol 1520

NASA / JPL / MSSS / James Sorenson

The road ahead, Curiosity sol 1520
Immediately ahead and to the right of Curiosity in this photo is Ireson Hill, capped with an interesting new type of dark rock. In front of the rover is the southern stretch of the Bagnold dune field, which Curiosity explored from sols 1600 to about 1660. Beyond that is the newly named Vera Rubin ridge, Curiosity's next drive target.

Mount Sharp northwest flank

Seán Doran using HiRISE data (NASA / JPL / UA)

Mount Sharp northwest flank
A simulated view of the northwest flank of Mount Sharp using images and digital terrain models from HiRISE. The view is toward the southwest. It covers Curiosity's path from the Murray Buttes in the foreground, to the southern extent of the Bagnold dune field in the middle ground, and the Hematite Ridge beyond it. Beyond Hematite Ridge, the landscape steepens dramatically. For an enormous version of this image, visit Doran's Flickr page.

Mission Updates Archive

Here are the mission updates for the period. There has been a change in ownership of the mission blog. It was started by Ken Herkenhoff at the USGS, and later Ken was joined by two other USGS scientists, Lauren Edgar and Ryan Anderson, as writers. JPL has mirrored the USGS-hosted content for some time. Now, ownership of the blog has moved over to JPL, and more authors are showing up: Michael Battalio of Texas A&M; Christopher Edwards of Northern Arizona University; Abigail Fraeman of JPL; Scott Guzewich of Goddard; Rachel Kronyak of the U of Tennessee; Michelle Minitti of Framework; Mark Salvatore of U Michigan; and Roger Wiens of Los Alamos.

Sols 1600-1601 update by Lauren Edgar: Celebrating Sol 1600 with “Whiskey” and “Rye” (3 February 2017)

Wow, 1600 sols on Mars – that is quite an accomplishment! And we’re at an exciting point in the traverse as we approach the next segment of the Bagnold Dunes. Curiosity’s weekend plan includes more contact science and driving as we continue to investigate the Murray formation and prepare for observations at the active sand dunes. This Saturday is a soliday (a day without planning to allow Earth and Mars schedules to sync back up), so we’ll transition from a late slide sol today to early slide sols next week. The plan begins with additional imaging of “Ireson Hill” to document the bedding geometry and cap rock from a different viewing position. We’ll also take a Mastcam tau, a Navcam dust devil movie, and a Mastcam image to monitor the rover deck. Then Curiosity will acquire MAHLI images of two targets: “Whiskey” and “Rye” (hmmm, perhaps some Sol 1600 celebrations are in order), with a short APXS integration on “Whiskey” and a longer overnight integration on “Rye.” Both targets were selected to study the stratification and chemistry of the Murray formation here. On Sol 1601, Curiosity will carry out some drill diagnostics, followed by a drive and post-drive imaging. We’ll also take a Mastcam 360-degree mosaic, which should be very scenic from this site – looking out over the dunes and capturing features like “Ireson Hill.” And finally, Curiosity will wake up early on Sol 1602 for a suite of environmental monitoring observations. Stay tuned for the second investigation of the Bagnold Dunes next week!

Sol 1602 update by Ryan Anderson: Bagnold Dunes 2: Electric Boogaloo (7 February 2017)

The weekend plan went well and today we begin the second half of the campaign to study the “Bagnold Dunes”. The Sol 1602 plan starts off with two Mastcam mosaics of the dunes which will be repeated several times later in the sol to watch for changes. Navcam also has a dust devil monitoring observation in the morning science block. Around midday, Mastcam will do a couple of measurements to determine the amount of dust in the atmosphere, and ChemCam will do an active LIBS observation of the soil target “Mapleton” as the final step in the diagnostics that will allow it to return to active duty! In addition to change detection, Mastcam has a stereo image of some bedforms at “Flume Ridge,” a 9x2 mosaic of the interesting nearby dune field, and a 3x2 observation in support of the campaign to watch for dust devils. Later in the sol, MAHLI will have a field day, observing the targets “Scarboro”, “McKenny”, “Matagamon”, “Flume Ridge”, “The Forks”, and “West Branch”. The rest of the sol involves repeating the Mastcam change detection observations, going all the way until 7:30 in the evening.

Sol 1603 update by Ryan Anderson: Finishing at Stop 1 (9 February 2017)

Yesterday’s plan went well, and ChemCam has run all of the planned diagnostics and will be back in action tomorrow! Similar to yestersol’s plan, the Sol 1603 plan begins with a pair of Mastcam observations which will be repeated throughout the day to look for any changes in the nearby sand. Mastcam also has multispectral observations of targets “Matagamon,” “Scarboro,” and “Flume Ridge”. Next, Mastcam has a mosaic of some interesting sand ripples. We will wrap up the early afternoon science block with Mastcam atmospheric observations and a Navcam dust devil movie.

After that, MAHLI will take a look at “Matagamon”, “West Branch”, “Flume Ridge”, “Dry Wall” and “McKenny”. That will be followed by an engineering test with APXS and an overnight APXS measurement of the target “Flume Ridge”. If all goes according to plan today, that will wrap up our observations at this location and we will move on to stop #2 of this second campaign to study Bagnold dunes.

Sol 1604-1605 update by Ryan Anderson: Toward Ireson Hill (10 February 2017)

On Sol 1604 we wrapped up at the first stop of this second phase of the Bagnold Dune campaign. The plan started off, as usual for the dune campaign, with a pair of Mastcam images that were then repeated throughout the day to look for changes. ChemCam had an RMI of the target “Mapleton” and then Mastcam had a whole series of images of nearby sand formations. Once that was taken care of, we decided to drive back toward Ireson Hill so that we can take a closer look at some of the geology there. The drive was about 55 meters, followed by post-drive imaging.

In the 1605 plan, ChemCam’s laser is back in action with an analysis of the target “Carys Mills”. Mastcam will take a supporting image of the same target, as well as a small mosaic of the target “Calderwood”. We will then continue driving around the east side of Ireson hill toward our targets of interest, ending at a rock that may be part of the hill’s capping layer.

Sols 1606-1608 update by Ryan Anderson: Studying Ireson Hill (10 February 2017)

Our drive on Sol 1605 was successful, putting us in a good position for weekend science on the northeast side of Ireson Hill. The sol 1606 plan starts off with ChemCam observations of “Quimby,” which appears to be a piece of cap rock that has tumbled down from the top of the hill, and a bedrock target “Quoddy”. Mastcam will take an image to document the ChemCam dataset that was automatically collected at the end of the Sol 1605 drive, as well as a mosaic of an area called “Castine”. APXS will then do an overnight analysis on “Quoddy” and “Pogy”.

Sol 1607 is not too busy: the main activity is a short science block with atmospheric observations using Navcam, ChemCam, and Mastcam. Sol 1608 makes up for it though. It starts off with ChemCam of the targets “Cushing” and “Bucksport”. Mastcam will document those two targets and then do some multispectral observations of “Quoddy”, “Quimby”, and “Jemtland”. We will wrap up Sol 1608 with some workspace images and a MARDI image of the ground under the rover.

Sol 1609 update by Ken Herkenhoff: Passagassawakeag and other challenges (13 February 2017)

MSL drove a little over 9 meters on Sol 1608, to get the vehicle closer to Ireson Hill and the dark blocks that have rolled down from the top of the hill. Two of these blocks are within reach of the arm, but both are challenging targets. Even the name chosen for the dark block at the left side of the image above is difficult: "Passagassawakeag." It's pointier that we would like for contact science, and the other dark block, dubbed "Perry" (at lower right in the image above), is close enough to the rover that there is a risk of collision with the arm. Complicating the plan further, the best time to take MAHLI images of these targets is late in the afternoon, when they won't be shadowed by the arm. But the last chance to send data to Earth in time to make them available for planning tomorrow is earlier in the afternoon, making it difficult to return all of the data needed to respond to a possible arm fault. Therefore, we decided to acquire a single MAHLI image of Passagassawakeag from a safe distance of 5 cm before the critical communications opportunity, and send it in case the full suite of MAHLI images of Perry planned later in the afternoon is not successful. We would then be better able to plan contact science on Perry tomorrow if necessary.

The Sol 1609 plan starts with ChemCam and Right Mastcam observation of Passagassawakeag, a typical Murray bedrock exposure named "Spurwink," and a more distant dark block called "Wassataquoik" (another tongue-twister). Then the Right Mastcam will acquire a 3x1 mosaic of the Perry area, single images of rocks near the top of the hill named "Gonic," "Kineo," and "Edmunds," followed by an 8x4-frame mosaic of the right side of the hill. Just before the MAHLI imaging of Perry, a full suite of MAHLI images, plus extra stereo frames, is planned on Spurwink. After all of the MAHLI activities have been completed, the APXS will be placed on Perry for a pair of short integrations, then placed on Spurwink for an overnight integration. Of course we are hoping that this complicated plan goes well!

Sol 1610 update by Ken Herkenhoff: Finishing up at Ireson Hill (14 February 2017)

The activities planned for Sol 1609 went well, and MAHLI focus data indicate that high-resolution images of Perry were successfully acquired. So we're ready to drive away from Ireson Hill after some more remote sensing of the rocks in front of the rover. The Sol 1610 plan starts with some more drill diagnostic tests, then the arm will be moved out of the way for remote sensing. ChemCam and Right Mastcam will observe a bedrock exposure named "Fogelin" that shows subtle color variations, and Mastcam will acquire multispectral sets of images of yesterday's contact science targets Perry and Spurwink. As more Sol 1609 data were returned during planning this morning, the Mastcam team noticed that the Right Mastcam image of Edmunds was blocked by the arm, so this activity will be repeated on Sol 1610 with the arm out of the way. Mastcam will also measure dust in the atmosphere before the drive and standard post-drive imaging. Later in the afternoon, Navcam will search for dust devils and clouds, and ChemCam will acquire some calibration data. REMS will take a break from the usual environmental monitoring to update their flight software. 

Sol 1611 update by Ken Herkenhoff: Patch Mountain (15 February 2017)

MSL drove almost 27 meters on Sol 1610 to a location with several potential targets, so the planning team spent some time discussing priorities. A dark patch of bedrock, appropriately named "Patch Mountain" was chosen for ChemCam, Right Mastcam, and MAHLI observations. The MAHLI imaging was moved after the ChemCam observation so that the LIBS impact spots would be visible. An additional MAHLI image was added to the standard full suite, to provide a 3-image mosaic from 5 cm. Then the rover will drive again, and take images afterward to enable planning more activities on Sol 1612. Just before sunset, Navcam will search for dust devils and REMS will complete the second part of their flight software update.

Sols 1612-1613 update by Ken Herkenhoff: Planning challenges (16 February 2017)

After a 23-meter drive on Sol 1611, MSL again ended up in an area with many bedrock blocks partly covered by dark sand. We're planning two sols today to get a head start on planning for the holiday weekend, with the first sol strategically planned to allow the "touch and go" option. But there's a ridge about 30 meters ahead that we can't see over, and we would like to be able to drive up onto it on Sol 1612 to allow a drive past it to be planned this weekend. There isn't enough time before the "decisional" telecommunications opportunity to fit both contact science and a 30-meter drive into the plan, so we had to pick one of these two options. Based on images taken from orbit and by the rover, lots of bedrock is exposed at the crest of the ridge 30 meters away, so we picked the longer drive at the expense of contact science today, hoping that the rover will be in a better place for contact science this weekend. Before the drive, ChemCam and Right Mastcam will observe a bright/dark boundary on a block at the left side of the image above (dubbed "Frenchville"), and Right Mastcam will acquire a 2x2 mosaic of another block named "Third Lake." After the drive, we're planning fewer images to support weekend planning because the expected downlink data volume is much less than usual. We therefore spent more time than usual carefully prioritizing the post-drive images for downlink, and may not receive all of the data we need to plan contact science and a drive this weekend.

Later in the afternoon of Sol 1612, ChemCam will again use AEGIS to autonomously select a LIBS target and acquire a 3x3 set of chemical measurements. The REMS software upgrade went well, so REMS environmental monitoring is being planned again today! On Sol 1613, ChemCam will acquire passive calibration data, and Navcam will search for dust devils and clouds. Finally, the rover will sleep overnight in preparation for what we hope will be a busy weekend plan. The issues described above made for a challenging day for me as SOWG Chair!

Sols 1614-1616 update by Ken Herkenhoff: Delayed planning (17 February 2017)

The Sol 1612 drive went well, and there is a nice bedrock block in the arm workspace. We received a bit more data than expected before planning started, but not enough to finalize drive plans and contact science targets. As expected, we received more data during planning, including color images of the arm workspace that were very useful in selecting contact science targets. The late arrival of the necessary data caused delays in the standard uplink planning timeline, but the tactical team did a great job and we have an excellent weekend plan. It's good to see REMS extended blocks back in the plan after the successful software upgrade.

On Sol 1614, ChemCam and Right Mastcam will observe bedrock targets named "Columbia Falls," "Spider Lake," and "Loon Stream." Mastcam will measure dust in the atmosphere and acquire a 3x3 mosaic of a layered block dubbed "Aroostook River." Late that afternoon, MAHLI will image the REMS UV sensor and acquire mosaics of another bedrock target named "Chain Lakes" and of Spider Lake. The APXS will then measure the chemistry of the Spider Lake area at overlapping locations to look for spatial variations in composition. Early the next morning, Mastcam will again measure dust in the atmosphere and Navcam will search for clouds. Later on Sol 1615, more drill diagnostic tests are planned, then the APXS will be placed on its calibration target for an overnight integration. A short drive to the dark dunes south of the rover is planned on Sol 1616, followed by unstowing the arm and post-drive imaging. Another busy (sometimes hectic) day for me as SOWG Chair!

Sol 1617 update by Ken Herkenhoff: Re-attempt the drive (21 February 2017)

The drive planned for Sol 1616 halted early, apparently because the right rear wheel got stuck between two rocks. The mobility team concluded that it is safe to continue, so the drive planned for Sol 1617 is essentially the same as the previously-planned drive. Before the drive, ChemCam and Right Mastcam will observe a sand target named "New Sweden" and Right Mastcam will acquire mosaics of a layered bedrock outcrop dubbed "Hobbstown" and of the dunes that are the target of the drive. Mastcam will also measure dust in the atmosphere before the drive begins. After the drive and more testing of the drill, along with post-drive imaging to support planning on Wednesday, ChemCam will use AEGIS to select a target for chemical analysis. 

Sol 1618 update by Lauren Edgar: A second stop at the dunes (22 February 2017)

The drive on Sol 1617 went well, and Curiosity drove 20 m to the south, which put us in a good position for another stop at the Bagnold Dunes. This site was selected to enable comparison of the leading and trailing edges of the dunes. Today’s plan includes ChemCam observations of disturbed and undisturbed soil, at targets named “Tomhegan” and “Macworth.” We’ll also acquire a Mastcam multispectral observation on “Macworth,” along with systematic deck monitoring. A number of environmental monitoring activities are planned in the first science block, including two dust devil surveys, a Mastcam tau, and a crater rim extinction observation to monitor atmospheric opacity. In the afternoon we have three MAHLI targets planned: “Waweig” (undisturbed ripple crest), “Tomhegan” (undisturbed ripple flank) and “Seboomook” (disturbed sand). APXS will also acquire data on “Tomhegan,” with an overnight integration on “Waweig.” Throughout the plan, Mastcam will also perform several change detection experiments at two different locations to monitor sand movement. Looks like quite the day for investigating the Bagnold Dunes!

Sol 1619 update by Ryan Anderson: Wrapping up dune stop #2 (24 February 2017)

We are wrapping up our observations at stop #2 of the second Bagnold dunes campaign. In the Sol 1619 plan, we start off with Navcam and Mastcam atmospheric observations, followed by a ChemCam observation of the sandy target “Leighton”. Mastcam will then document Leighton and the autonomously identified ChemCam target from the post-drive science block on Sol 1617. Throughout the day, there will also be a number of repeated Mastcam change detection observations. Afterward, we’ll drive away toward stop #3 and collect our standard post-drive imaging.

Sols 1620-1622 update by Lauren Edgar: A weekend full of remote sensing (24 February 2017)

On Sol 1619, MAHLI experienced a fault and did not finish its planned imaging, so unfortunately the subsequent arm and mobility activities did not execute. That means that the weekend plan is devoted to MAHLI recovery activities and a lot of remote sensing. I was the GSTL today, and although it was a challenging start to the day, we were able to put together a very full plan. The first sol starts by retracting the arm. Then Curiosity will acquire several environmental monitoring observations to measure atmospheric opacity and characterize spectral properties. ChemCam will then assess the composition of typical bedrock and veins, at targets “Chase Brook,” “Aziscohos,” and “Chandler Ridge.” On the second sol, Curiosity will wake up early for environmental monitoring, including a ChemCam passive sky observation, Mastcam tau, Mastcam crater rim extinction observation, and several Navcam movies to look for clouds. Later in the afternoon, ChemCam will assess the composition of a ripple crest at the target “Depot Mountain,” followed by another passive sky and Mastcam tau. Overnight, SAM will conduct an electrical baseline test to monitor instrument health, and on the third sol, APXS will carry out a thermal characterization test. Throughout the plan Mastcam and MARDI will acquire a number of images to monitor the movement of sand. So I guess the day turned into a bonus plan for the second stop at the Bagnold Dunes, enabling a lot of change detection activities!

Sols 1623-1624 update by Lauren Edgar: MAHLI diagnostics and remote sensing (27 February 2017)

Today’s two-sol plan is devoted to MAHLI diagnostics and remote sensing. It’s another late slide sol, so planning started three and half hours later than usual. The plan kicks off with arm activities to better understand the fault that MAHLI experienced last week. Then ChemCam will investigate “Dunn Brook,” a target that is just above “Chase Brook” from the weekend plan, and is shown in the above Mastcam image. The target shows some interesting color variations so ChemCam will be used to investigate changes in composition. We’ll also acquire a ChemCam observation of “Leighton,” to study the coarse sand grains at the crest of a ripple. Then Navcam will look for dust devils and clouds, in response to orbital observations that suggest recent increasing atmospheric opacity. On the second sol, Mastcam will acquire a multispectral observation on “Dunn Brook,” and will be used to document the previous APXS locations at “Tomhegan” and “Waweig.” We’ll also acquire a Mastcam image for deck monitoring to assess the movement of fines, and an upper tier Navcam mosaic to enable us to target features on Mt. Sharp. The second sol includes a number of environmental monitoring observations, using both Mastcam and Navcam to monitor the color and opacity of the atmosphere and search for dust devils. The plan also includes an APXS thermal characterization test and a number of change detection observations.

For more on Curiosity’s recent findings, check out this press release.

Sols 1625-1626 update by Lauren Edgar: Change detection and additional remote sensing (1 March 2017)

We’re still at the second stop of the Bagnold Dune campaign, running a few more MAHLI diagnostics and focusing on targeted remote sensing. I was the GSTL today and it was still a pretty busy day for the GEO theme group. The first sol includes a ChemCam observation of a ripple crest (similar to the observation from Sol 1621 shown in the above Mastcam image) and a long distance RMI to look for changes on the slope of Mt. Sharp. We’ll also use Navcam to search for dust devils, and Mastcam will survey the color and opacity of the atmosphere. The second sol includes ChemCam observations of “Allagash” and “Hersey” to investigate some bedrock with interesting color variations. Mastcam and Navcam will also be used to monitor the atmosphere and search for dust devils. In the afternoon of both sols, APXS will continue to collect data for thermal characterization. Throughout the plan, we’ll repeat several Mastcam and MARDI images to monitor changes in sand movement. These change detection observations have produced a great dataset that shows some awesome ripple activity.

Sols 1627-1629 update by Lauren Edgar: Driving again (3 March 2017)

Good news: the MAHLI cover was successfully opened and the instrument is marked healthy again. That means it’s time to close the cover, and if that’s successful, drive away toward the next stop in the Bagnold Dunes Campaign. I was the GSTL again and it was a pretty straightforward planning day. On the first sol, we’ll acquire ChemCam observations on “Swanback” and “Rangely” to assess the composition of a ripple crest and a bright patch of bedrock. We’ll also use Mastcam to image the rover deck to monitor the movement of fines. In the afternoon, we’ll close the MAHLI cover and run a few more diagnostics. The second sol starts with an early science block for environmental monitoring, including Navcam and Mastcam observations to look for clouds and monitor the amount of dust in the atmosphere. Later in the day we’ll use Navcam to search for dust devils. Then Mastcam will acquire a large mosaic of the stratigraphy exposed beneath the hematite ridge, and ChemCam will target “Thorofare” to assess the composition of veins in the local bedrock. We’ll also acquire a long distance ChemCam RMI mosaic to monitor the slope of Mt. Sharp and look for changes. Throughout the first and second sols, we’ll continue to take Mastcam images to monitor changes in sand movement. Then Curiosity will drive further to the south, and take post-drive imaging to prepare for targeting next week. The third sol is devoted to a few more environmental monitoring activities, an autonomously selected ChemCam target, and some ChemCam calibration activities. Looking forward to driving again and getting a new view!

Sols 1630-1631 update by Ryan Anderson: Early Morning Planning (7 March 2017)

We had an early-morning (6 AM on the west coast!) start to planning today, which was a bit painful but with the help of lots of caffeine we put together another plan full of good science! The exciting news from the weekend plan is that the MAHLI dust cover closed as planned, so we’re back in business with MAHLI.

The Sol 1630 plan will start with ChemCam observations of a vein called “Temple Stream”, a soil target called “Mattawamkeag”, and the bedrock target “Vassalboro” to coordinate with an APXS observation of “Sangerville”. MAHLI will also observe Sangerville, and Mastcam will document each of these targets. After that, the plan is to drive about 40 meters and collect some post-drive imaging.

Since we’re driving on sol 1630, sol 1631 will be dedicated to untargeted science. ChemCam has an AEGIS observation, as well as some calibration observations. This will be followed by Navcam and Mastcam atmospheric observations, including several observations to watch for dust devils. 

Sols 1632-1633 update by Ken Herkenhoff: Contact science on "Spring Point" (8 March 2017)

The MSL rover drove a little over 40 meters on Sol 1630, to a place with bedrock blocks surrounded by dark sand. There's a bright block with parallel linear features in the arm workspace, so the tactical team decided to plan contact science on those features. This made for an exciting day for me as MAHLI/MARDI uplink lead! The MAHLI image through the closed dust cover that was planned for Sol 1630 was successfully acquired, so we're planning to acquire a similar image of the APXS target "Spring Point" on Sol 1632. MAHLI diagnostic images of its calibration target and more drill diagnostic tests are also planned for Sol 1632, along with ChemCam and Right Mastcam observations of Spring Point and a nearby target named "Nine Lake." Right Mastcam will also take an image of a laminated rock dubbed "Grand Pitch" before the rover drives away.

On Sol 1633, Navcam will search for dust devils and ChemCam will again use AEGIS to autonomously select and observe a target in the rover's new location. Finally, MARDI will take another image during twilight. If all goes well, we'll be able to return to normal MAHLI operations this weekend!

Sols 1634-1635 update by Ken Herkenhoff: Back to nominal MAHLI planning (10 March 2017)

MSL drove about 29 meters toward the south on Sol 1632, and is in a good position for weekend activities. The MAHLI images taken on Sol 1632 look good, and the dust cover is working properly, so MAHLI is ready to return to nominal operations! The tactical planning team therefore selected contact science targets on a block right in front of the rover that shows interesting color variations. This bedrock block is too close to the rover to allow ChemCam data to be safely acquired, so a nearby exposure was selected for an analogous measurement and named "Hurricane Mountain." I helped plan ChemCam observations today, and picked a nearly-vertical layered bedrock target that we called "Hardwood Mountain." Right Mastcam will image these targets and take a 4x3 mosaic of another bedrock block dubbed "Rocky Mountain." Mastcam will also acquire a multispectral set of images of "North Haven," a collection of pebbles near Hurricane Mountain, and survey the sky in the afternoon. Then MAHLI will take 5 images of "Canada Falls" from various distances before the APXS is placed on the first of 3 closely-spaced Canada Falls targets. After sunset, APXS data will be gathered on all 3 spots, using the arm to reposition the instrument between integrations.

Early on Sol 1635, Navcam will search for clouds and Mastcam will measure the dust in the atmosphere. Later in the day, more drill diagnostic tests are planned, followed by another set of Mastcam dust observations. Then the rover will drive toward the nearby dune and acquire data that will be used to select a target for the next drive, which will hopefully position the rover well for contact science on the dune sand. 

Sol 1636 update by Ryan Anderson: Another Early Morning (13 March 2017)

Thankfully I wasn’t actually on duty today, because with daylight savings time Arizona is now on West-coast time, and planning started at 6:30am! In any case, the weekend plan was successful, and put us close to the third stop of the current campaign to study the Bagnold Dunes.

The Sol 1636 plan starts off with a ChemCam passive observation of Vera Rubin Ridge, with a supporting Mastcam mosaic. ChemCam will also analyze the bedrock targets “Buck Cove Mountain” and “Smyrna Mills”. After that, we will do a short “bump” to Stop 3 of the dune campaign, with post-drive imaging. In the afternoon after the drive, ChemCam will do an automated AEGIS observation (likely to hit sand) and Navcam has a few atmospheric observations. We will also unstow the arm to prepare for contact science activities tomorrow.

Sol 1637 update by Ryan Anderson: Stop 3 (14 March 2017)

Yesterday’s short drive was successful, so we started today with the rover parked at stop #3 of the dune campaign and the rover’s arm up in the “ready out” position. The Sol 1637 plan starts out with a couple of Mastcam atmospheric observations, followed by ChemCam analysis of two targets on a nearby sand ripple. The target “Spragueville” is in the ripple trough and “Ripogenus” is on the ripple crest. Mastcam will document both targets, and will take a couple of small mosaics of the sand ripples that are visible from our new location. Mastcam also will document the ChemCam AEGIS target from sol 1636, and collect some multispectral images of an area where the rover’s wheel disturbed the sand, called “Hildreths.”

In the afternoon, MAHLI will take pictures of the targets “Ripogenus”, “Spragueville”, and the small ripple crest “Shin Brook.” APXS will then analyze “Spragueville” and “Ripogenus”. Throughout the day, Mastcam will also periodically be taking images of the target “Holmes Hole” to watch for any changes.

Sol 1638 update by Ryan Anderson: Busy Day for MAHLI (15 March 2017)

Today we are continuing our investigation of Stop #3 of the Bagnold Dune campaign. We start off with some MAHLI images of the APXS targets “Ripogenus” and “Spragueville” from yesterday. For these images, the MAHLI dust cover will stay closed. Then ChemCam will analyze the bedrock target “Holmes Hole” and the sand target “Spragueville”, with Mastcam support images. MAHLI will then come back to “Ripogenus” and “Spragueville” for some very close (2 cm and 1 cm, respectively) images, followed by some 25cm and 5cm images of the targets “Ash Island” and “Greenvale Cove”. APXS then will do a short analysis of “Ash Island” and a longer observation of “Greenvale Cove”. Also, as usual for our dune campaign stops, Mastcam will be taking change detection images throughout the day.

Meanwhile, many of us on the science team are busy preparing our posters and presentations for the annual Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC) which is next week!

Sol 1639 update by Ryan Anderson: Onward to Ogunquit Beach (16 March 2017)

Planning was challenging this morning because of some network issues at JPL, but the team figured out how to work around the problem and still managed to put together a good plan! We’ve been at Stop 3 of the dune campaign (now known as “Southern Cove”) for a couple of sols, so in today’s plan it’s time to move on.

On Sol 1639 the rover will begin by retracting the arm and doing some drill diagnostics before taking MAHLI images of the targets “Greenvale Cove” and “Holmes Hole”. After that, we have a remote sensing science block with a Navcam movie to watch for clouds above the crater rim, followed by a Mastcam change detection observation of “Holmes Hole” and a ChemCam observation of the disturbed sand at “Greenvale Cove”. Mastcam will also document “Greenvale Cove”. After the remote sensing is done, Curiosity will drive toward Stop 4 (“Ogunquit Beach”) and collect some post-drive images.

Sol 1640-1642 update by Ryan Anderson: Better Late than Never! (21 March 2017)

Sorry for the delayed posting! In the rush to get ready for the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC), I forgot to post about the sol 1640-42 plan. Better late than never!

The weekend plan started with some Navcam atmospheric observations, followed by ChemCam on the bedrock target “Big Moose Mountain”. Mastcam documented the ChemCam target and then did some deck monitoring and atmospheric dust observations. Then MAHLI and APXS analyzed the excellently-named targets “Junk of Pork Island” and “Uncle Steve’s Point”.

On Sol 1641, ChemCam analyzed “Dram Island” and “Frye Island”. Mastcam documented those targets and the APXS targets with a couple of small mosaics, and also observed the target “Anasagunticook”. We also ran some drill diagnostics. On Sol 1642 our main activity was a drive with typical post-drive imaging and MARDI.

Now, back to LPSC! If you want to hear the latest in planetary science, I and many others are "microblogging" the sessions on twitter, using the hashtag #LPSC2017!

Sol 1643 update by Ken Herkenhoff: First half of long-baseline stereo (20 March 2017)

MSL drove about 28 meters toward the south on Sol 1642 and again is in an area with Murray Formation bedrock blocks surrounded by dark sand. I helped plan ChemCam observations today, and we settled on a target called "Vinalhaven" at the left side of the layered bedrock exposure seen at upper left in this image. Right Mastcam will image Vinalhaven and coarse material to the right of that bedrock block, at targets named "Rindgemere" and "Hurd Mountain." Then Right Mastcam will image more distant targets, with a 3x1 mosaic of a layered rock about 11 meters away dubbed "Saint Daniel" and a 28x1 mosaic of the hematite-bearing "Vera Rubin Ridge" in the distance. This latter mosaic is the first half of a long-baseline stereo observation that should allow the topography of Vera Rubin Ridge to be measured more accurately than is possible using standard Mastcam stereo images. The long baseline will be achieved by moving the rover between Mastcam observations.

Another drive is planned for Sol 1643, followed by the standard post-drive imaging plus Left Mastcam imaging of the arm workspace to support possible contact science in the next plan. Later in the afternoon, Navcam will search for dust devils and clouds, and ChemCam will again use AEGIS to autonomously select a target and acquire data.

Sol 1644 update by Ken Herkenhoff: Staying put (21 March 2017)

The Sol 1644 plan focuses on arm activities, because the volume of data expected to be relayed via the MRO and Mars Odyssey orbiters in time for planning tomorrow is too small to allow both a drive and drill diagnostic tests. So the tactical science team took advantage of the opportunity for contact science by planning APXS and MAHLI observations of bedrock targets named "The Hop" and "The Horns." But first, ChemCam and Right Mastcam will observe The Hop, then Right Mastcam will image the target AEGIS selected yesterday and examine rocks named "Heald Mountain," "Caucomgomoc Lake," and "Mooselookmeguntic Lake." Mastcam will also search for late-morning dust devils. After the drill diagnostics and full suites of MAHLI images of The Hop and The Horns, the APXS will be placed on The Hop for an overnight integration. Early the next morning, Navcam will search for clouds and Mastcam will measure the amount of dust in the atmosphere.

Sol 1645 update by Michael Battalio and Ken Herkenhoff: Searching for dust devils (22 March 2017)

The APXS will still be deployed on The Hop early on Sol 1645, and to avoid using battery power to heat up the arm, we'll wait until early afternoon to move it out of the way. So we had to pick ChemCam and Right Mastcam targets that would not be obscured by the arm: A bright vein named "Snows Point" and a knobby-looking rock dubbed "Clam Ledge." Navcam will then search for clouds and dust devils before the APXS is retracted from The Hop and more drill diagnostic tests performed. The Navcam surveys are part of an ongoing Environmental Science Theme Group (ENV) campaign to meticulously search for dust devil activity in Gale Crater. It is important to maintain a regular cadence, because as the location of the rover and thus surface topography changes, the size and number of dust devils can change. In concert with the imaging, simultaneous REMS measurements can detect pressure drops if vortices travel over or near the rover. This set of observations is needed to constrain model simulations and is an excellent example of two different instruments working together to improve our understanding of the meteorology of Gale Crater and dust lifting processes on Mars as MSL traverses up Mount Sharp. ENV also plans to repeat the Mastcam optical depth measurement and Navcam cloud movies that will be taken early in the morning of Sol 1645, to check for diurnal variability. A Mastcam afternoon sky survey is also planned, to characterize dust in the atmosphere. Today's drive will be followed by the post-drive imaging needed to plan contact science and another drive this weekend.

Sol 1646 update by Ken Herkenhoff: Traction control driving (23 March 2017)

MSL drove a little over 20 meters on Sol 1645, toward the big sand dune to the east that is the subject of a science campaign that will hopefully start next week. Another drive toward the east is planned for Sol 1646, with post-drive imaging to set up for contact science. The drive will include the first use on Mars of traction control software that's been tested and fine-tuned in JPL's Mars Yard since last April. This new software allows the rover to drive "softer," meaning that when the rover detects that a wheel is driving over a rock, it slows the other five wheels to avoid pushing the wheel into the rock while the wheel climbs over the rock. Curiosity's first use of traction control has been planned for months to begin about now and is intended to validate the new software for optional use in future drives.

Before the Sol 1646 drive, ChemCam will observe targets "Bald Rock Ledge" and "Porcupine Dry Ledge" on one of the layered outcrops to the right of the rover. Then Right Mastcam will acquire mosaics of both of the layered outcrops shown in the picture above. After the drive, Navcam will again search for dust devils and ChemCam will observe a target selected by AEGIS. Finally, Navcam will search for clouds and SAM will perform an engineering baseline test.

Sols 1647-1649 update by Ken Herkenhoff: Approaching the dune edge (24 March 2017)

The traction control test went well, and MSL drove over 30 meters on Sol 1646. The rover will be busy this weekend with lots of remote sensing, arm work, and a drive onto the edge of the dune. On Sol 1647, Left Mastcam will take a 360-degree panorama and Right Mastcam will acquire a 17x3 mosaic of the edge of the sand dune, which was named "Ogunquit Beach." Then ChemCam and Right Mastcam will observe bedrock targets "Damariscotta Lake," "Mount Katahdin," and "Boothbay Harbor." Late that afternoon, the arm will be unstowed for drill diagnostic tests and a full suite of MAHLI images on another bedrock target dubbed "Halftide Ledge." APXS will then be placed on the same target for an overnight integration.

On Sol 1648, the arm will be stowed after more drill diagnostic tests and Navcam will search for dust devils while REMS acquires environmental data. Then the rover will drive onto the dune, toward a target near the center of the image above. After the drive, the arm will be unstowed to allow Mastcam and Navcam to acquire stereo images of the arm workspace to support planning next week. Early the next morning, Mastcam will measure the dust in the atmosphere and Navcam will search for clouds. In the afternoon, Right Mastcam will repeatedly take pictures of 3 areas near the rover to look for changes due to winds. Mastcam will also search for dust devils and measure atmospheric dust at two different times of day. Finally, the rover will sleep through the night to recharge in preparation for what will likely be a busy week.

Sol 1650 update by Lauren Edgar: Let the scooping begin! (27 March 2017)

Over the weekend, Curiosity bumped to our scooping location at “Ogunquit Beach.” We have a wheel scuff in the left side of our workspace and a sinuous ripple crest in the right side of the workspace, which according to today’s Geology Science Theme Lead Michelle Minitti is “everything a dune lover could want!” Today’s plan is focused on imaging the ripple crest, the interior of the scuff, and two of the scoop targets, along with APXS of the scuff interior. 

The plan starts with slip assessment imaging and vibe checkout to prepare for sampling activities. Then we’ll acquire MAHLI images of two of the planned scoop targets to characterize the sites before we scoop them. We’ll also acquire MAHLI images of the interior of the scuff, now known as the “Flanders Bay” target, to assess the disturbed sand, and the ripple crest, now known as “Avery Peak.” Then we’ll place the APXS over “Flanders Bay” for an overnight integration. SAM will also perform some preconditioning heating activities to prepare for upcoming solid sample analysis. This is a very power intensive plan, so we had to trim back a couple of science activities to accommodate the sampling-related activities. Looking forward to a very complex and exciting scooping campaign!

Sol 1651 update by Lauren Edgar: Scoop #1 at Ogunquit Beach (28 March 2017)

Sol 1650 activities completed as expected, so it’s time to start scooping. Today’s plan is focused on acquiring Scoop #1 and dropping off a portion of the sample to SAM. This is the first of four intended scoops at this location, aimed at sampling different grain sizes and their composition. The plan begins with a Mastcam mosaic of “Kennebago Divide” to document some possible layering exposed by the wheel scuff on the right side of the workspace. We’ll also take several Mastcam images for change detection to monitor active sand movement. Then the arm backbone starts by retracting the arm and a vibe to clean APXS. After that we’ll take a few MAHLI documentation images of the “Flanders Bay” and Scoop #1 locations (prior to scooping), and a very close-up image of the “Avery Peak” ripple crest. Next up, we’ll acquire Scoop #1! The sample will be sieved, and the fine-grained portion (great view. 

Sol 1652 update by Lauren Edgar: CheMin drop-off and SAM Analysis (29 March 2017)

Sol 1651 activities executed nominally, so today’s plan is focused on dropping off the fine-grained portion of “Ogunquit Beach” Scoop #1 (now named “OG1”) to CheMin, and SAM analysis of OG1. The plan kicks off with Mastcam multispectral imaging of the right and left wheel scuffs, as well as Mastcam change detection imaging. Then ChemCam will investigate “Tumbledown Mountain,” “Elephant Mountain” and “Canoe Point,” to characterize the composition of sand in different parts of the left wheel scuff. Navcam will also acquire an image to look at line-of-sight dust loading within the crater. Later in the afternoon, part of the OG1 sample will be dropped off to CheMin. Curiosity will stay busy overnight, with a SAM solid sample evolved gas experiment to analyze the fine-grained portion of OG1. I’m busy on the other side of the planet working operations for the Opportunity rover today, but it’s fun to hear many members of both rover teams jumping back and forth between telecons to help plan lots of great science activities for our hardworking robots.

Sol 1653 update by Lauren Edgar and Michael Battalio: Targeted science at Ogunquit Beach (30 March 2017)

Yesterday afternoon the downlink included some results of ongoing drill feed diagnostics that warrant a further look before proceeding with the dune campaign, so the arm activities from Sol 1652 were pulled from the plan and we did not drop-off to CheMin. But we did receive some beautiful images of scoop OG1, as shown in the above Mastcam image. Today’s plan is a great opportunity to do some targeted remote sensing activities that we haven’t been able to accomplish due to power constraints earlier in the week. The first science block includes ChemCam observations of “North Brother” and “Avery Peak” to investigate undisturbed sand and to look for changes in sand composition along a ripple crest. Then Mastcam will document the ChemCam targets and take several change detection observations. Later in the day, the GEO theme group requested a ChemCam observation of “Baxter Peak” to investigate changes in composition along another large ripple crest. We also planned two Mastcam mosaics to document sedimentary structures and changes in the Murray formation at nearby outcrops. 

Meanwhile, the ENV theme group used the remote sensing sol to catch up on normal cadence activities, which had been partially suspended to provide as much time as possible for the dune campaign. ENV added a Navcam supra-horizon movie to try to capture cloud activity above the crater rim. Additionally, Mastcam was planned to capture a mid-week tau, to continue tracking changes in atmospheric dust between the usual weekend observations. The plan also includes a four-frame, Navcam dust devil survey to cover as wide an area across Gale as possible, and REMS and DAN observations were included as usual.

Sols 1654-1656 update by Lauren Edgar and Michael Battalio: MAHLI imaging of OG1 and remote sensing (31 March 2017)

Today’s three-sol plan starts with MAHLI imaging of the first scoop location (OG1). The first sol also includes Mastcam and MARDI imaging for change detection. The second sol involves a number of remote sensing activities, starting with a long morning imaging suite for environmental monitoring observations. The imaging suites are special observations that include Navcam cloud movies and dust opacity measurements from both Navcam and Mastcam at an early morning time, when the rover is usually asleep and recharging. The sol 1655 imaging suite is a long version which also includes a ChemCam passive sky measurement, which seeks to determine the chemical composition of the air near MSL. All of these measurements are duplicated in the afternoon to check for diurnal variability. Later in the afternoon we’ll also take a large Mastcam mosaic of “Vera Rubin Ridge,” for both stereo and multispectral analysis of the prominent ridge at the base of Mt. Sharp. We’ll also acquire a multispectral Mastcam image of the area observed by the Ground Temperature Sensor (GTS) to help with thermal modeling and grain size determination. The plan includes the usual REMS and DAN measurements, and additional REMS observations were added to determine if the REMS GTS is affected by an increase in winds in the afternoon. The second sol also includes more Mastcam change detection observations, and a large Navcam 15-frame dust devil movie to attempt to capture movement in individual dust devils and to estimate the amount of dust lifted by a range of vortex sizes. On the third sol, ChemCam will perform some calibration activities and analyze targets “Kamankeag” and “Hamlin Peak” to assess the composition of Murray bedrock and a small ripple. I’ll be on duty next week, so I’m getting caught up and looking forward to more dune campaign activities.

Sols 1657-1658 update by Ryan Anderson: April Fool's Day, or Groundhog's Day? (4 April 2017) 

Over the weekend there was a problem with the Deep Space Network that we rely on to transmit commands to Curiosity, so the rover didn’t receive its instructions and instead went into “runout” mode, where it patiently waits for commands and does some basic environmental monitoring in the meantime. That means today’s plan was a “do-over” trying to cram everything from our weekend plan into two sols.

The Sol 1657 plan starts with a busy remote sensing science block. Navcam will take a couple of images of the workspace, then Mastcam will do a large multispectral mosaic of Vera Rubin Ridge and its interesting iron oxides. This is then followed by a multispectral observation of the target “Fivemile Brook” and an image to monitor the rover deck. Mastcam also has the first of several change monitoring observations in the science block. These observations are repeated throughout the day to see if any sand moves. Once Mastcam is done, ChemCam has a couple of passive calibration activities, followed by a long-distance RMI observation of Mt. Sharp that I requested.

Later in the Sol 1657 plan, MAHLI has a couple of documentation images of the scoop location at Ogunquit, and MARDI has a twilight observation of the ground under our wheels. SAM also has an engineering activity.

On Sol 1658, the plan starts off with some morning atmospheric observations using Navcam and Mastcam, as well as the start of another set of Mastcam change detection images. The main targeted science block on Sol 1658 has ChemCam observations of the targets “Kamankeag” and “Hamlik Peak” with accompanying Mastcam images. Navcam also has a dust devil movie and a cloud movie in this science block.

A little bit later in the afternoon, Mastcam will repeat its change detection image and do another couple of observations to measure the dust in the atmosphere. The change detection images will continue on into the evening, and MARDI will also take another image to see what has changed beneath the rover.

Sols 1659-1660 update by Lauren Edgar: Time to hit the road again (5 April 2017)

Curiosity has been carrying out a great investigation at Ogunquit Beach, but we’re still working out some issues related to the drill feed, so the decision was made to drive away in today’s plan. We’re driving away with a cache full of sand, so we can still deliver to CheMin and SAM in a future plan. 

I was the Geology Science Theme Lead today, and our plan was focused on picking up a few last observations at Ogunquit Beach before driving away. The plan starts with APXS on undisturbed sand at the target “Pamola,” with corresponding MAHLI documentation images. This observation will be helpful to compare to APXS results from the disturbed sand in the wheel scuff. Later in the afternoon, there’s another arm backbone to run some drill diagnostics. Then we’ll acquire several high-priority Mastcam change detection observations, to monitor the movement of sand in a few places, one of which corresponds to a previous Navcam dust devil survey. We’ll also take two stereo mosaics to evaluate ripple wavelength and height. Before we fully drive away, we’ll position the back of the rover over Ogunquit Beach so DAN can take a measurement. Then Curiosity will continue driving to the south. After the drive we’ll take post-drive imaging for targeting, and prepare for the possibility of contact science in the weekend plan. The second sol includes an autonomously selected ChemCam target, and a ChemCam calibration activity. We’ll also take several Mastcam and Navcam images to search for dust devils and monitor the amount of dust in the atmosphere. Even though we’re leaving the dune behind, there’s some interesting outcrop up ahead so I’m excited to see what the more resistant outcrop might hold!

Sols 1661-1663 update by Ryan Anderson: DAN has been busy (8 April 2017)

Our drive away from the “Ogunquit Beach” sand dune location went well, taking us about 35 meters to the southwest and putting us in a good location to continue measuring the composition of the bedrock as we drive up Mt. Sharp. The Sol 1661 plan starts out with a Mastcam mosaic of “Old Speck Mountain” and some Navcam cloud detection observations. ChemCam will then analyze the targets “Blueberry Mountain,” “Brewer Mountain,” and “Mud Hole” with Mastcam documentation images for each target. I also requested some long distance ChemCam images of a cliff face on Mt. Sharp. I wasn’t able to participate in planning today, so we will see if the instructions I left the uplink team were correct!

Once the remote sensing is done, MAHLI will take some pictures of the targets “Paradise Hill” and “Treasure Island”. APXS will then analyze both targets, with an overnight analysis of Treasure Island. On Sol 1662 we will drive again, followed by an autonomously targeted ChemCam observation, and on sol 1663 Curiosity will have a pretty easy day, with some Mastcam atmospheric dust measurements and a MARDI image of the ground beneath the rover.

Throughout this week, the environmental science group has been working to recover the activities that were lost last weekend because of the Deep Space Network outage, such as the morning imaging suite and 15-frame Navcam dust devil movie, while also continuing the normal cadence of monitoring activities. Earlier in the week, a special DAN active measurement was acquired over the sand of “Ogunquit Beach”. By turning the rover in place and backing up onto the dune, we placed the field of view of DAN's active neutron experiment, which is centered between the rear two wheels, right on the dune sand. DAN active experiments are performed after each rover position change (usually immediately after a drive), but in this case, the measurement was taken just before the rover departed Ogunquit Beach. In a DAN active measurement, neutrons are fired in all directions by the Pulse Neutron Generator, and some neutrons scattered by the soil under the rover return to the DAN detectors. This measurement will allow DAN to compare the amount of hydrogen measured at Namib Dune around sol 1243 to the conditions at Ogunquit Beach.

Sols 1664-1665 update by Ken Herkenhoff: Keep on driving (10 April 2017)

MSL drove about 24 meters on Sol 1662, and another drive is planned for Sol 1664. Before the drive, lots of targeted remote sensing is planned: ChemCam and Right Mastcam will observe a bright rock named "Peaks Island," an exposure of bedding dubbed "Great Wass Island," a sand ripple called "Baldpate Mountain," and an interesting rock that was selected by AEGIS after the Sol 1662 drive, now named "Chebeague Island." Mastcam will also acquire a stereo mosaic of outcrops toward the south, in the direction of the planned drive.

Planning is restricted this week, so two sols were planned today. Untargeted remote sensing planned for Sol 1665 includes passive (no laser) ChemCam sky observations and two ground LIBS targets selected using the AEGIS software. Navcam will then search for dust devils and clouds before the rover rests in preparation for Wednesday's plan.

Sols 1666-1667 update by Ken Herkenhoff: Moosehead Lake (12 April 2017)

The Sol 1664 drive was halted after the rover had driven less than 2 meters because the angle of the left bogie slightly exceeded the suspension limit. Such limits are routinely set based on the results of detailed modeling of the vehicle's response to the terrain, so that unexpected conditions will automatically cause the rover to stop and wait for further instructions. Analysis of the vehicle's orientation this morning showed nothing that concerned the mobility team, so a drive is planned for Sol 1666. Before the drive, ChemCam and Right Mastcam will observe a vein target named "Ingalls Island," a nearby outcrop target dubbed "Yellow Island," and color boundary targets called "Bunker Cove" and "Cromwell Cove." Mastcam will then acquire a multispectral observation of Moosehead Lake, the drive goal. After the drive and usual post-drive imaging, the arm will be unstowed for more drill diagnostic tests and moved out of the way for Navcam and Left Mastcam imaging of the arm workspace, to support planning on Friday. Later that afternoon, Mastcam will measure dust in the atmosphere, Navcam will search for clouds, and AEGIS will acquire a ChemCam observation of an autonomously-selected target.

The Sol 1667 plan starts with Navcam searches for dust devils and clouds above the horizon. In the afternoon, ChemCam will acquire calibration data. The rover will then get some sleep before what could be a busy weekend plan.

Sols 1668-1670 update by Ryan Anderson and Michael Battalio: Diving into (analysis of) Moosehead Lake (14 April 2017)

Our latest drive put us in position in front of the interesting “Moosehead Lake” outcrop with lots of veins and grey patches: plenty to keep Curiosity busy over the weekend! The Sol 1668 plan starts off with a nice long science block. ChemCam has observations of targets “Sheldrake Island”, “Crabtree Neck”, “Waukeah Neck”, “Morancy Stream” and “Ogden Point”. This is followed by a dust devil survey and several Mastcam mosaics. These include one covering Moosehead Lake, a few frames to extend the coverage of the area near the rover, and a big 22 frame mosaic of the outcrop at our next stop. Mastcam will also take a picture of the ChemCam auto-targeted location from after the drive. After that MAHLI will take pictures of the targets “Morancy Stream” and “Sheldrake Island” and then APXS will analyze those two targets.

On Sol 1669, we’ll retract the arm and drive, followed by post-drive imaging and a MARDI observation in the evening. On Sol 1670, there is a short morning block of atmospheric observations and a longer afternoon block containing a Mastcam image of the rover deck, another dust devil observation, and an auto-targeted ChemCam observation. We will wrap up Sol 1670 with some observations of the dust in the atmosphere to compare with the morning.

Speaking of atmospheric observations, let’s do a recap of the environmental science we’ve done this week. Of course Curiosity acquired the usual REMS and DAN measurements as well as Navcam cloud observation movies throughout the week. The pointing direction of the cloud movies was shifted from north-facing to south-facing to avoid the sun. The movies will remain pointed towards the south until just after the southern hemisphere spring equinox in May 2018. As mentioned above, there was a Navcam dust devil survey on Sol 1670, as well as one earlier in the week on sol 1668. Also captured earlier this week in ENV planning was a ChemCam passive sky observation on sol 1665 that had been previously dropped twice from the plan due to the DSN outage two weeks ago and sun safety issues last week. Planning passive sky observations is difficult: they are among the most time consuming and time constrained atmospheric observations. This is because the observation requires ChemCam to take passive spectra of the sky at two different azimuths and ChemCam must avoid the sun’s path as it slews between those locations. This can be difficult near equinoxes when the sun passes directly overhead!

Sol 1671 update by Roger Wiens: More Rocks Out the Front Window (17 April 2017)

Today I covered the ChemCam Payload Element Lead (PEL) role for this first Monday after Easter. Normally the ChemCam team starts Mondays with a telephone tag-up as we hand over operations between the French and US portions of the team. We alternate doing ChemCam operations from week to week, and the Monday teleconferences are the switching point where we convey to the incoming team any useful information that happened the previous week. However, as our French colleagues celebrate Easter a little longer than we do (they have Monday off), we skipped the usual phone tag-up, and traded the usual information by e-mail.

Overall, the French part of the ChemCam team has somewhat more of a challenge, as the daytime operations at JPL in California end up being during the evening and nighttime in France. I attended operations in Toulouse one time and I can verify that operations run very late. French law mandates that employers must provide dinners for anyone who must work late. The operations center at CNES is up to standards with gourmet pre-packaged French cuisine, a small perk for having to work at night. Overall, I have a lot of respect for the dedicated late-night team in France (of course, also for the daytime teams in the US).

Meanwhile, back on Mars, Curiosity nailed the 34 meter drive to another rock exposure identified in orbital images. Ever since we observed possible mud cracks at Old Soaker the rover team has been pursuing the idea that Curiosity is exploring strata that represent occasional dry-lake periods. As the rover drives further from the dunes, it is nice to be seeing more and more interesting rocks out the front window. The main activities in the plan that we’re sending up to the rover today include a 9x7 Mastcam mosaic of the rock outcrop "Jellison Cove", MAHLI, APXS, and ChemCam on "Deer Isle", and a second ChemCam analysis of "Calf Island".

Sol 1672 update by Michelle Minitti: If it weren’t for the last minute, nothing would get done! (19 Apr 2017)

On Tuesday, the science team had a "soliday", a day without planning to allow the time when the science team plans activities on Earth to realign favorably with when the rover is ready to accept and execute those plans. Our network, however, stayed on soliday through Wednesday morning, leaving the science team without access to the tools we use to plan activities! For most of planning, this was the only full image the science team had of the terrain in front of us.

Fortunately, the rover planners at JPL had a bit better luck, gaining access to enough Navcam and Hazcam images to plan a drive so that the rover did not have to spend the sol idle. The RPs were also able to plan drill diagnostics after the drive to keep investigating the state of the drill. JPL kept the science team posted over the phone - the one way we could communicate with one another. In the event the science team was not able to plan targeted observations, we made plans for basic untargeted post-drive observations that would record the terrain around us (systematically-acquired Mastcam and MARDI images, and an autonomously selected ChemCam target) and help us plan science the next sol (Navcam images of the terrain in front of us and to the starboard side of the rover to target ChemCam and Mastcam).

With just ten minutes to spare before the end of our planning window, our friends in the JPL IT department reestablished the network - it takes a village! The GEO and ENV groups *very* quickly added targeted observations to the already-planned untargeted observations. GEO added a Mastcam image of an autonomously selected ChemCam target shot on Sol 1671, and an 8x2 Mastcam mosaic of an outcrop hypothesized to represent a dry-lake period, parts of which were also studied over the last several sols. ENV planned DAN passive and active observations, and regular REMS and RAD measurements. The activities sailed through the rest of planning, the result of a true (science and engineering) team effort to keep Curiosity busy exploring Mars yet another sol!

Sol 1673 update by Michelle Minitti: Planning with plenty of "Moxie" (20 Apr 2017)

There's nothing like a day of technical difficulties to make you appreciate when it all works! The science team bounced back from yesterday's challenging planning day with a vengeance, planning an amazingly full suite of observations of the rock - and sky! - around us. The 23 m drive on Sol 1673 put Curiosity alongside Murray bedrock blocks that appeared to be capped with a different material, with a darker color and smoother texture relative to the Murray

The two materials, separated by what looked like bright-toned, sulfate vein material, caught the GEO team's eye, leading us to plan multiple observations of these materials. The "Sorrento Harbor" target aimed to capture the transition from the Murray bedrock to the vein material, and the "Bean Point" target investigated a gray patch among the vein material. This gray patch resembled similar gray patches targeted over the last several weeks given their unique textures and chemistries. The AEGIS-targeted ChemCam raster, acquired post-drive on Sol 1673, ended up hitting the darker, smoother capping material, but GEO complemented it with a second target, "Cape Levi", on another patch of this material in front of the rover. The "Chimney Peak" target, a raster across multiple layers of Murray bedrock, rounded out our targeted ChemCam activities.

GEO kept Mastcam similarly busy. We imaged all the ChemCam targets, acquired a mosaic covering the contact between the darker, smoother capping material, the sulfate vein material, and the underlying Murray, and a stereo mosaic of the "Moxie Mountain" outcrop to investigate the dip of the Murray formation at this spot.

ENV scanned the skies of Gale crater with a variety of images and movies to look for clouds and variations in atmospheric properties. DAN acquired a long passive observation, and regular REMS and RAD measurements will extend our environmental monitoring record within Gale.

Given the sand-covered terrain a few meters ahead of the rover, the rover planners kept today's drive fairly conservative - 10-15 m - to give us a better look at possible drive paths for the weekend. They'll drive us up to a nice curb of bedrock for weekend targeted and contact science! The arm unstow after our drive will give our post-drive images with Navcam and Mastcam an unobstructed view of our weekend work (play?) space.

Sol 1674 update by Michelle Minitti and Michael Battalio: Slipping into a new plan (21 Apr 2017)

In the Sol 1673 drive, the rover planners aimed us for a nice curb of Murray bedrock which we could investigate with targeted science (with Mastcam and ChemCam) and contact science (with APXS, MAHLI and the dust removal tool (DRT)) over the weekend. The rover has to be sitting stably on the terrain for us to conduct contact science, with none of the six wheels in danger of slipping off a rock as we deploy the arm and turret. The arm and turret together are over 2 m in length and 95 kg in mass, providing a lever arm significant enough to move even our 900 kg rover! When placing APXS in contact with a rock, or MAHLI 1 cm away from a rock, the last thing you want is for the rover to move. While the rock in our workspace was indeed enticing, the rover planners found that two of our wheels were partially perched on rock slabs like those in the workspace, precluding us from using APXS and getting MAHLI any closer than 10 cm to any target in the workspace.

With these constraints in place, the science team set out to make lemonade. GEO planned three ChemCam rasters, with the "Back Cove" and "Lookout Point" targets selected to survey the chemistry and grain size of the Murray bedrock, and the "South Brother" target aimed at one of the gray, non-Murray pebbles seen dotting the bedrock surface in the workspace. We imaged both "Back Cove" and "Lookout Point" with MAHLI from 10 cm, the former with a single image, and the latter with a 3x2 mosaic that also captured multiple Murray layers around "Lookout Point". Mastcam also imaged the three ChemCam targets, and acquired mosaics of the Murray bedrock structures both in front of and along the starboard side of the rover. Since we would be in place for multiple sols, GEO planned two Mastcam images of the sandy target "Grant Cove", one image on Sol 1674 and the second on Sol 1675, to look for wind-induced changes.

ENV kept busy, obtaining their weekly morning imaging suite paired with afternoon observations to determine diurnal variability in cloud cover and the amount of dust in the atmosphere using both Mastcam and Navcam. ENV took advantage of the ability to use MAHLI, as well, acquiring an image of the REMS UV sensor. This is done periodically to determine the amount of dust covering the UV photodiodes, because the longer Curiosity remains in the Martian environment, the more dust settles on the detectors. The increased dust covering the photodiodes affects the REMS UV dust measurements of the atmosphere, so images of the sensors allow for recalibration of the observation. Accurate measurements from REMS are important for comparison to the Mastcam and Navcam dust measurements.

Once all these great observations are wrapped up, Curiosity will drive further up the slopes of Mt. Sharp, picking her way across the rough terrain toward yet another intriguing Murray bedrock patch. What surprises await? Check back next week to find out!

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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