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Emily LakdawallaOctober 13, 2016

Curiosity Update, sols 1428-1488: Through the Murray Buttes, drilling at Quela, and beyond

It's been two months since my last update, and in that time Curiosity has sailed rapidly southward through stunning scenery of Murray Buttes and beyond, to a choppy sea of broken rock, stopping only briefly to drill at the edge of the Buttes. The rover is making tracks for the hematite-, clay-, and sulfate-rich sediments to the south. On the way, it's pausing to drill at regular intervals, systematically sampling the composition of the mudstones along its path. As for the Buttes, Curiosity had no scientific reason to study them. They rose too high above the rover to sample and anyway they are made of late aeolian sandstones of little relevance to the mission’s scientific objectives. But they made for gorgeous views. So the rover took detailed mosaics of every butte, building up a data set that will be valuable to some future scientist. Here are a few of them, in which amateur Seán Doran has added an astronaut to provide a sense of scale.

Artist’s concept of an astronaut to scale with Murray buttes, Mount Sharp in the background, Curiosity sol 1419

NASA / JPL / MSSS / Thomas Appéré / Seán Doran

Artist’s concept of an astronaut to scale with Murray buttes, Mount Sharp in the background, Curiosity sol 1419
Curiosity took the images for this panoramic view of one of the Murray buttes with its left Mastcam on sol 1419 (August 3, 2016). Seán Doran added a figure of an astronaut into a panorama assembled by Thomas Appéré in order to provide a sense of scale.
Artist’s concept of an astronaut to scale with Murray buttes, Curiosity sol 1432

NASA / JPL / MSSS / Seán Doran

Artist’s concept of an astronaut to scale with Murray buttes, Curiosity sol 1432
Curiosity took the images for this panoramic view of one of the Murray buttes with its left Mastcam on sol 1432 (August 16, 2016). Seán Doran added a figure of an astronaut in the photo in order to provide a sense of scale.

Here's a set of three observations that I particularly liked. I've always loved how shifting Sun outlines different shapes on mountains and buttes.

Changing light on a butte and distant crater rim, Curiosity sol 1447

NASA / JPL / MSSS / Emily Lakdawalla

Changing light on a butte and distant crater rim, Curiosity sol 1447
Curiosity performed three sets of observations of near and distant horizon and sky on sol 1447 to study the amount of dust in the atmosphere. The three images were taken at 07:27, 10:46, and 15:08 local mean solar time, seeing shadows shift on a nearby butte.

After drilling at Marimba, it took the rover about four weeks to traverse the entire expanse of the Murray Buttes. As someone who has been anticipating the rover’s arrival at the Buttes since soon after the landing more than four years ago, I found this scenic road trip among the buttes to be almost disappointingly fast. But there’s no sense wasting time in a place where Curiosity can’t further its science mission, and the rover sped on through.

­Right after they drove south of the final butte, they made a quick detour to drive up to the base of one and do another drill operation at a site they named Quela. They are performing routine sampling of the Murray formation as they drive across it. I have my suspicions that they selected a drill site so close to the base of the butte because they wanted a chance to try sampling in a site that might have been more recently exposed in order to see if SAM could tell the difference between exposure age and rock age, as they did way back in Yellowknife Bay. (Go read that update to understand why the base of a butte might possibly be a good place to do that experiment.)

Fourteen Curiosity drill holes on Mars

NASA / JPL / MSSS / Emily Lakdawalla

Fourteen Curiosity drill holes on Mars
As of August 2016, Curiosity has drilled and sampled at thirteen 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; Greenhorn, on sol 1137; Lubango, on sol 1320; Okoruso, sol 1332, Oudam, sol 1361; Marimba, sol 1422; and Quela, on sol 1464. 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.

They didn't linger at Quela, making very quick work of the drilling even though they apparently experienced a fault with the drill during their first attempt, on sol 1461. That interrupted drilling activities for two sols, during which they were still allowed to use the arm, so took a new self-portrait.

Curiosity self-portrait at Quela, sol 1462

NASA / JPL / MSSS / Seán Doran

Curiosity self-portrait at Quela, sol 1462
Curiosity took the photos for this self-portrait while at the Quela drilling site just south of the Murray Buttes on sol 1462 (September 17, 2016). To understand why the arm does not appear in this photo, read this article.

Since Quela, the rover has traveled another 300 meters or so beyond the Buttes. The first drive was a nice long 75 meters, but since then the progress has been slower. The Murray formation in this area is broken into widely separated blocks and the landscape undulates, making it difficult to plan safe routes among the rocks that are longer than a few tens of meters. Here's an udpated 3D route map of the progress.

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 shorter drives do mean that they have time to squeeze blocks of science in the morning before hitting the road. They're doing a lot of "touch and go" operations, using the arm to perform MAHLI imaging and quick APXS compositional analysis and the mast-mounted camera and spectrometer to image interesting rock targets before drives. The variety of rock textures has been fun to watch. For example, check out this nodular bit of heavily eroded bedrock, sliced up by bright veins, that Curiosity imaged on sol 1482.

Nodule-filled bedrock outcrop, Curiosity sol 1482

NASA / JPL / MSSS / Emily Lakdawalla

Nodule-filled bedrock outcrop, Curiosity sol 1482
The images for this mosaic were acquired as part of a set of science observations performed before a drive on sol 1482 (October 6, 2016).

The blocky nature of the terrain has had me a bit worried for the wheels, and when I saw a recent wheel survey I thought that the wheel damage had been accelerating. But a close examination of recent wheel images has put my mind at ease. There really hasn't been much increase in damage in the last 6 months. The rover drivers are doing a fantastic job of threading the wheels among rocks, protecting them against injury. The wheels won't last forever but they'll last longer than I'd hoped. No broken treads yet! Here is the most recent full survey of all 6 wheels, which you may enjoy comparing to similar surveys taken on sols 1315 and 1046:

Curiosity wheel survey, sol 1471

NASA / JPL / MSSS / Emily Lakdawalla

Curiosity wheel survey, sol 1471
Curiosity performed a complete five-position survey of all wheels on sol 1471 with the MAHLI camera on the end of the arm.

And here's a look at the damage accumulated in the left-middle one over time. It really hasn't changed a lot lately.

Observations of Curiosity's left-middle wheel from sol 513 to sol 1471

NASA / JPL / MSSS / Emily Lakdawalla

Observations of Curiosity's left-middle wheel from sol 513 to sol 1471
Curiosity periodically uses its MAHLI camera to survey the progression of damage to its wheels. The left-middle wheel has accumulated the most damage, but progression has been slow. So far, no grousers (treads) are broken.

The most recent USGS Astrogeology blog update says that the team is looking for a new spot to drill. This update has been about two drives bracketing a drill hole -- I suspect my next update will be about two drill holes bracketing a drive. Stay tuned!

In the meantime, here are all the detailed Astrogeology blog updates from Ryan Anderson, Lauren Edgar, and Ken Herkenhoff for the last two months.

Sol 1428 update by Ken Herkenhoff: Downlink limited (11 August 2016)

MSL drove 11 meters on Sol 1427, and a longer drive is planned for Sol 1428. I helped select ChemCam targets today; the number of possible science observations was constrained by the time available before the drive, so only one LIBS measurement is planned, on a bedrock target southeast of the rover named "Xangongo." Mastcam will image this target as well, and measure the amount of dust in the atmosphere. The amount of data we expect to receive in time for planning tomorrow is more limited than usual, so we are unlikely to receive enough post-drive data to plan both contact science and a drive this weekend. The tactical team decided that driving has higher priority, so critical post-drive imaging is focused on supporting mobility planning. Overnight, CheMin will perform another analysis of the Marimba drill sample, to improve the quality of mineralogical data.

Sols 1429-1431 update by Ken Herkenhoff: Power limited (12 August 2016)

MSL drove over 45 meters on Sol 1428, closer to the Murray Buttes. I helped select ChemCam targets again this morning, and was glad to see that some of them made it into the weekend plan. The primary constraint on planning today ended up being power--we tried to fit more into the plan than the rover's batteries could support! But we were still able to include a lot of good activities into the plan, starting with a dust devil search, dust opacity measurements, and Mastcam stereo mosaics of the Murray Buttes on Sol 1429. ChemCam will acquire LIBS data on bedrock targets "Matala," "Cazombo," and "Ondjiva" before the Right Mastcam takes a 7x3 mosaic that includes the ChemCam targets. Overnight and into the early morning hours of Sol 1430, SAM will perform the first part of an experiment on the Mojave drill sample that has been stored in the instrument for several months. The second part of the SAM experiment is planned for the next night, completing early on Sol 1431. Finally, a drive is planned for Sol 1431, followed by acquisition of the data needed to plan another drive on Monday. So, even though we had to remove some activities during planning, the rover will be very busy this weekend!

Sol 1432 update by Ryan Anderson: Crossing the sand (15 August 2016)

The weekend plan went well, so the plan for Sol 1432 is to keep driving! Curiosity will go about 52 meters across a patch of sand, but before that we have a short science block. ChemCam will observe the target “Longa” and Mastcam has two mosaics of the nearby buttes. After the drive, we have post-drive imaging, and some onboard data processing of the MAHLI images of the “Marimba” drill hole, as well as some CheMin data processing. In the morning of Sol 1433 we are planning some atmospheric observations with Navcam and Mastcam, although one of them had to be removed from the plan when we realized that one of the nearby buttes was blocking our view of the crater rim!

Sols 1434-1435 update by Ryan Anderson: Inspecting Wheels and Buttes (17 August 2016)

Once again our drive went smoothly and we’re planning to drive some more in today’s plan! The Sol 1434 plan starts out with ChemCam observations of the targets “Cubal” and “Soyo”. Mastcam will document those two targets and then continue the effort to study the nearby buttes. The team is really enjoying the spectacular scenery because it means there is a lot of interesting geology on display! In the afternoon on Sol 1434, we will check out the rover’s wheels with MAHLI. On Sol 1435 Curiosity will drive about 65 meters and do the usual post-drive imaging. In the afternoon on Sol 1435 there is a short science block, during which ChemCam will make a calibration measurement. 

Sol 1433 update by Ryan Anderson: Butte-iful scenery (17 August 2016)

Yestersol’s drive went nicely, so today the plan looks quite similar, with a remote sensing block followed by another 50 meters of driving! The Sol 1433 plan starts with ChemCam and Mastcam of the target “Klein Klipneus”. After that, Mastcam has a couple of mosaics to continue admiring the scenery (a.k.a. studying the stratigraphy of the Murray Buttes). Then Curiosity will drive and collect post-drive imaging, followed by an untargeted science block with Mastcam and Navcam atmospheric observations. CheMin will also be doing its third analysis of the “Marimba2” drill sample and then reading out its data to be downlinked.

Sol 1436 update by Ryan Anderson: Smooth sailing (19 August 2016)

We are making good progress with our drives (we’re already approaching our next drill site!) and the road in front of us is looking pretty smooth. As usual we have a busy weekend planned. Sol 1436 starts off with ChemCam and Mastcam of the layered rock targets “Conda” and “Savungo”. Mastcam then has a mosaic of one of the buttes, and another mosaic of an interesting feature within the Murray formation called “Chitado”. Later in the day, MAHLI will take a look at the targets “Biula” and “Conda”. Then Curiosity will brush the dust off of Conda and do an overnight APXS measurement. CheMin will also do another analysis of Marimba2 overnight.

On Sol 1437, ChemCam has a passive observation of Conda and an RMI mosaic of the target “Chicala”. Mastcam will also take a picture of Chicala and do an atmospheric measurement. In the morning on Sol 1438, Mastcam has a big 16x3 mosaic of the Murray Buttes, and Navcam has an atmospheric observation. Then the rover will have a long drive (60-90 m) followed by the usual post-drive imaging. 

Sols 1439-1440 update by Ryan Anderson: Target names that start with Q (22 August 2016)

Our weekend drive halted a little bit early, but everything is looking good and we will continue to drive in today’s plan. We will start off the Sol 1439 plan with ChemCam observations of the layered rock targets “Quibala” and “Quibaxe”. Mastcam will then image Quibala, followed by a whole bunch of mosaics documenting the stratigraphy in the nearby buttes as well as the locations called “Quibaxe”, “Quipungo” and “Quicombo”. (I think the people choosing names today got a little carried away with names starting with Q...) After that the rover will drive, and we will follow up with post-drive imaging as well as a ChemCam AEGIS observation.

The following morning, Mastcam and Navcam have some atmospheric observations, and then in the afternoon ChemCam will analyze its calibration targets.

Sols 1441-1442 update by Ryan Anderson: Cruising through the Murray Buttes (24 August 2016)

Curiosity is making good progress through the Murray Buttes, and on Sol 1439 we drove another 34 m to the south. Today’s two-sol plan fits our familiar routine: a pre-drive science block, drive, post-drive imaging for targeting, and an untargeted science block on the second sol. The plan starts with Mastcam and ChemCam observations of the targets “Viana,” “Ukuma,” and “Waku Kungo” to assess the composition and sedimentary structures in the local bedrock. We’ll also acquire a large Mastcam mosaic to document some of the buttes. After the drive we’ll take some post-drive imaging for targeting and context, as well as an autonomously selected ChemCam target using AEGIS. The second sol is mostly devoted to atmospheric monitoring, including a ChemCam passive sky activity, and Navcam observations to search for dust devils and clouds. If we keep up this driving pace, we could be looking for our next drill target as early as next Wednesday!

Sols 1443-1445 update by Lauren Edgar: A SAM-filled weekend plan (26 August 2016)

The drive planned on Wednesday did not execute due to an unanticipated flight software interaction. However, the problem is now understood and we will attempt the drive again next week.

Today’s three-sol weekend plan is focused on SAM activities and contact science. On the first sol we’ll do a SAM pre-conditioning activity to prepare the sample cup prior to delivery of the Marimba2 drill sample. We’ll also acquire a ChemCam observation of the target “Viana 2” to assess the chemistry of the local bedrock and nodules. Then we’ll take a Mastcam mosaic to document several light-toned ridges and possible channel features, followed by several environmental monitoring activities. In the afternoon we’ll drop off the Marimba2 sample to SAM, and the evolved gas analysis will occur overnight. The second sol contains ChemCam observations of “Ganda” and “Catabola,” followed by DRT and contact science on “Ganda,” and MAHLI and another short APXS integration on the target “Andulo.” This is a very power heavy and complex plan, so the third sol will be relatively light, with a ChemCam passive and Mastcam multispectral observation on “Ganda,” and additional ChemCam LIBS target at “Calonda,” and some Mastcam deck monitoring. Sounds like a busy weekend!

Sols 1446-1447 update by Ken Herkhenhoff: Back on the road (9 August 2016)

The MSL activities planned for last weekend went well, and the rover's batteries have enough energy to proceed with another drive on Sol 1446. We started the day looking at the beautiful new Mastcam images of the nearby buttes, then got down to planning the details of the 2-sol plan. On Sol 1446, Mastcam will extend coverage of previously-planned mosaics, and ChemCam will use its laser to measure the chemistry of "Muchinda" on a large outcrop block. After the drive, ChemCam will autonomously make another observation using the AEGIS software. Overnight, CheMin will prepare and analyze an empty sample cell in anticipation of a new drill sample. Early on Sol 1447, Mastcam and Navcam will measure the dust in the atmosphere and search for clouds. Most of these observations will be repeated just before local noon and late in the afternoon to look for short-term changes.

Sols 1448-1449 update by Ken Herkenhoff: No touch, just go (31 August 2016)

MSL roved 53 meters on Sol 1446, and ended up in an area with nice exposures of bedrock. We were interested in taking MAHLI close-up images of the bedrock but were concerned that they would not be very useful if the surface as dusty as it typically is. We therefore considered using the ChemCam laser to clean off some of the dust and get chemical information before deploying the arm, but recognized that the MAHLI targets would be partly shadowed by the arm turret, which would make the MAHLI images more difficult to interpret. Adding the arm activities would also leave less time for driving, so we had a lot of trade-offs to consider and it was a busy day for me as SOWG Chair! We finally decided not to include the MAHLI images in the plan, and focus instead on Mastcam imaging of the nearby buttes and maximizing the drive distance. We were also able to fit ChemCam and Mastcam observations of the "Luxilo" bedrock target into the plan, along with Right Mastcam images of the "Caxito" laminated exposure and the Sol 1446 AEGIS target. After the drive and usual post-drive imaging, SAM will clean its scrubber overnight. On Sol 1449, Mastcam will again measure the amount of dust in the atmosphere and ChemCam will autonomously perform another AEGIS activity. 

Sols 1450-1453 update by Lauren Edgar: Communication challenges (2 September 2016)

Curiosity had a nice ~78 m drive on Sol 1448, which set us up for a lot of great science over the long (4-sol) weekend. Unfortunately a problem with the Deep Space Network caused an entire Odyssey pass to be lost, so we didn’t receive the workspace images that we would have needed to do contact science. Without those images we didn’t feel safe moving the arm. But the team did a great job putting together a full weekend plan.

The first sol starts with several Navcam observations to search for dust devils and monitor the atmosphere. Then we’ll acquire a Mastcam mosaic to document the beautiful buttes that we’ve been driving through, followed by ChemCam observations of the targets “Benguela” and “Gabela” to assess the composition of the local bedrock. Later in the afternoon we’ll take two more Mastcam mosaics of the buttes under better lighting conditions. Overnight, Curiosity will carry out a SAM methane experiment. On the second sol we’ll take a 360-degree Mastcam mosaic to document the geology as we drive through the Murray Buttes. On the third sol we’ll drive, followed by standard post-drive imaging for targeting and context. After a busy weekend, the fourth sol is devoted entirely to REMS observations. 

While the buttes are beautiful, they pose a challenge to communications, because they are partially occluding communications between the rover and the satellites we use to relay data (MRO and ODY), so sometimes the data volume that we can relay is pretty low. But it’s a small price to pay for the great stratigraphic exposures and gorgeous view!

Sol 1454 update by Lauren Edgar: Approaching the next drill site (6 September 2016)

The 4-sol plan over the holiday weekend went well, and Curiosity drove ~40 m to the south. We’re currently just to the east of a butte that we’re planning to approach as our next potential drill site. 

Today’s 1-sol plan is a busy one. We’ll start with MAHLI imaging of the target “Eheke,” to characterize the local bedrock. Then we’ll use Mastcam and Navcam to assess atmospheric opacity, followed by ChemCam observations of the targets “Diyogha,” and “Donkerbos.” We’ll also acquire a Mastcam mosaic of the “Karasburg” area to observe the contact between the Murray and Stimson formations, and another mosaic to document the stratigraphy in the buttes. Then we’ll drive to start approaching the next drill site. After the drive we’ll take post-drive imaging for context and targeting. Tomorrow is a soliday (a day without planning to allow Earth and Mars schedules to sync back up), and then we’ll resume with an early slide sol on Thursday.

Sol 1455 update by Lauren Edgar: Driving to Quela (8 September 2016)

After another successful drive of ~40 m, Curiosity is aiming to approach the south side of a butte for our next potential drill site. The area is known as “Quela,” and is seen in the above Navcam image as the bright outcrop at the base of the butte.

Today’s plan includes a short science block, a drive, and post-drive imaging. The morning science block includes several Mastcam mosaics to assess the local stratigraphy, laminations in the Murray formation, and to document the butte and proposed drill site. We’ll also acquire a ChemCam observation of the bedrock at the target “Humpata,” and a Mastcam tau to assess atmospheric opacity. In addition to geology observations, the team has increased the frequency of meteorological measurements with REMS and imaging in response to observations from other spacecraft at Mars of the potential start of a major dust storm. The drive in this plan may put us in position at the next drill site, so our post-drive imaging will help prepare us for that scenario. We’ll also squeeze in another autonomously selected ChemCam target in the afternoon. It’s exciting to think about drilling again already!

Sols 1456-1458 update by Lauren Edgar: Settling in at Quela (9 September 2016)

We had a successful drive yesterday, and Curiosity is now parked at our next drill site, called “Quela”, right at the base of one of the Murray Buttes. The Sol 1456 plan starts with a Mastcam atmospheric observation, followed by ChemCam and Mastcam of “Quela” and a Mastcam mosaic of the workspace. After that, samples of “Marimba” will be dropped off in SAM for analysis.

On Sol 1457 Mastcam has another tau, and we will dump out the remaining Marimba sample and take some pictures of it. After that Curiosity will brush the dust off of Quela, with MAHLI images before and after, and APXS will do an overnight analysis.

In the morning on Sol 1458, Navcam, Mastcam, and ChemCam have a series of atmospheric observations. These will be followed by Mastcam multispectral observations of the Marimba dump pile, and another ChemCam passive sky and Mastcam tau. ChemCam will also analyze a block of Stimson material called “Uutapi”. Mastcam will document Uutapi and take a mosaic of some other blocks of rock that have fallen off the butte, collectively called “Cuimba”.

Sol 1459 update by Lauren Edgar: Characterizing the Marimba dump pile (12 September 2016)

Over the weekend, Curiosity completed analyses of the “Marimba” drill sample (our previous drill target), and dumped the post-sieve sample. Today’s plan is focused on MAHLI and APXS of the dump pile, and MAHLI imaging of the CheMin inlet to prepare for drill activities at our current location at “Quela.” The plan also includes a number of remote sensing observations. We’ll start with several atmospheric monitoring activities, including a Navcam movie and Mastcam tau. Then we’ll acquire a Mastcam multispectral observation on the “Quela” DRT spot. After two ChemCam passive observations of the “Marimba” dump pile and “Quela” DRT spot, we’ll acquire ChemCam LIBS on the targets “Eenhana” and “Ombomboli” to characterize the Murray bedrock and pebbles. Then we’ll take several Mastcam mosaics to document the color, texture, grain size, and sedimentary structures in the nearby rocks. 

Sol 1460 update by Lauren Edgar: Preparing to drill (13 September 2016)

Yesterday was sol 2 of the drill campaign at “Quela” and we did a lot of great remote sensing, contact science and wheel imaging (see the above RMI image showing fine lamination in some pebbles, and the MAHLI image of the wheels to monitor their health). Today’s plan includes a science block and cross-contamination experiment to prepare for the drill sample. Science activities include a Mastcam multispectral observation of a block of Stimson sandstone, ChemCam RMI images of the layering in the butte, and ChemCam LIBS to assess the composition of the pebbles. If all goes well we should be ready to go for the full drill hole tomorrow!

Sol 1461 update by Lauren Edgar: Time to drill (14 September 2016)

It’s always an exciting day on Mars when you prepare to drill another sample – an engineering feat that we’ve become so accustomed to that I sometimes forget how impressive this really is! Today’s plan just looks like a “typical” drill sol. First we’ll image the intended drill target with MAHLI, then we’ll do a full drill of the target “Quela”, followed by more documentation imaging with MAHLI. We’ll also acquire a ChemCam RMI image of the drill hole to help with upcoming targeting of the hole. Then the sample will be transferred to the scoop for inspection. Drilling is a pretty power-hungry activity, so there are no additional science observations in this plan, but we’re hoping to have more time for science tomorrow. In the meantime, we have plenty of new beautiful images to analyze.

Fingers crossed for another successful drill hole on Mars!

Sol 1462 update by Ryan Anderson: Drill Troubleshooting and Remote Sensing (16 September 2016)

Unfortunately the Sol 1461 drilling activities did not complete as expected, so the Sol 1462 plan was focused on trying to understand the problem while also doing some remote sensing. The plan starts off with Mastcam multispectral observations of the target “Ekunha” on the nearby butte. ChemCam will analyze the targets “Cuasa” and “Cuimba”, and then Mastcam will document those targets and take an 8x3 mosaic of the butte, along with a change detection observation at “Goantagab”.

In the afternoon, Mastcam has a mosaic of the target “Karasburg” to help with planning contact science, and then in the morning of Sol 1463 Mastcam has another mosaic of the nearby butte, under different lighting, and Navcam has at atmospheric measurement. Throughout the whole plan, there are also a number of joint Navcam and Mastcam photometry observations of the same location at different times of day to help understand how sunlight scatters off the surface.

Sols 1463-1465 update by Ryan Anderson: Trying Again (16 September 2016)

After doing the drill diagnostics, the team has decided to try drilling at Quela again over the weekend. Sol 1463 will start with ChemCam of some pebbles called “Omusati” and some veins called “Didimbo”. Mastcam will document both targets, and then do a tau measurement to determine how much dust is in the atmosphere. After that, the rover will use MAHLI to take a selfie at our current scenic location. In the afternoon on Sol 1463, Navcam will take some images to help with targeting, and Mastcam and Navcam will continue the photometry experiment from yesterday’s plan. Mastcam also has a change detection observation and Navcam will watch for clouds overhead. We will wrap up the busy day with MAHLI of the pebbles at “Ombomboli”.

Sol 1464 will be devoted to drilling and related imaging. Sol 1465 ChemCam has some passive calibration target measurements, plus an RMI of the drill hole. Mastcam will also take a look at the drill hole, using the full suite of multispectral filters.

Sol 1466 update by Ken Herkenhoff: A new drill hole (19 September 2016)

The second attempt to drill into Quela was successful, but there was a timing issue during sample manipulation in CHIMRA that resulted in premature halting of the Sol 1465 sequence. So on Sol 1466 we'll pick up where MSL stopped and sieve the new sample, dump the unsieved fraction, and drop some of the sieved sample into CheMin. But first, ChemCam will acquire passive spectra of the Quela drill tailings and use its laser to measure the chemistry of the wall of the new drill hole and of bedrock targets "Camaxilo" and "Okakarara." Right Mastcam images of these targets are also planned. After sunset, MAHLI will use its LEDs to take images of the drill hole from various angles and of the CheMin inlet to confirm that the sample was successfully delivered. Finally, the APXS will be placed over the drill tailings for an overnight integration.

Sols 1467-1468 update by Ken Herkenhoff: Finishing up at Quela (20 September 2016)

The activities planned for Sol 1466 are going well so far--the only problem is that the ChemCam observation of the Quela drill hole wall is slightly out of focus. So we'll try again on Sol 1467 with slightly modified ChemCam command parameters. We're planning two sols today, and our top priority is to finish up our investigation of the Quela drill hole and tailings before driving away. There are a lot of measurements we'd like to make here, so it was a rather busy day for me as SOWG Chair. After retracting and stowing the arm to allow remote sensing observations of the Quela area, the Right Mastcam will image the imprint of the APXS contact sensor in the drill tailings, to determine exactly where the APXS was placed. Mastcam will also image the unsieved sample dump pile through all filters and measure the amount of dust in the atmosphere (a "Mastcam tau") by imaging the Sun. Then ChemCam will go to work, acquiring passive spectra of the dump pile and active LIBS observations of the drill hole/tailings, a vein target named "Sumbe," and Goantagab again to look for changes. The Right Mastcam will then acquire a 5x8 mosaic of the right side of the butte in front of the rover and take pictures of the ChemCam targets. Another Mastcam tau is scheduled late in the afternoon, followed by CheMin and SAM engineering activities. Mastcam will measure dust in the atmosphere again on the morning of Sol 1468, and Navcam will search for clouds overhead. A ~90-meter drive is planned during the middle of the day, followed by the usual post-drive imaging to set us up for the next plan.

Sol 1469 update by Ken Herkenhoff: Leaving Murray Buttes (22 September 2016)

MSL drove over 87 meters on Sol 1468, toward an outcrop named "Karasburg." The Sol 1469 plan includes another drive toward Karasburg, after ChemCam and Mastcam sample a local bedrock target named "Cacolo" and a patch of brighter material dubbed "Malembo." Mastcam will also acquire mosaics of the Karasburg area both before and after the drive. Following the typical post-drive activities, AEGIS will again be used to autonomously select a ChemCam target and acquire chemical and imaging data. While the Murray Buttes were spectacular and interesting, it's good to be back on the road again, as there is much more of Mt. Sharp to explore!

Sol 1470-1472 update by Ryan Anderson: Change of Plans (23 September 2016)

Our drive went nicely and we are already about halfway to our next drill site! Our original plan to head toward an outcrop called “Karasburg” had to be changed because it turned out to be covered in sand and not very steep, making it a less-desirable science target. So instead we are heading toward a location where (we hope) the stratigraphy will be better-exposed.

For this weekend’s plan, we start out on sol 1470 with a Navcam dust devil search and atmospheric observation, plus ChemCam of the targets “Chiagne”, “Chibemba”, and “Chibanda”. Mastcam will document those three targets, as well as the location of the automated ChemCam observation that was collected after yesterday’s drive. Mastcam also has three mosaics: a 6x3 of the Karasburg outcrop, a 4x1 of a location called “Longojo”, and a 5x2 extension of the drive direction mosaic.

On Sol 1471, we will do a wheel checkup with MAHLI and then drive, followed by the usual post-drive imaging. On Sol 1472 we have another AEGIS automated ChemCam observation, a couple of Mastcam atmospheric observations, and ChemCam calibration targets.

Sol 1473 update by Lauren Edgar: In search of a contact science location (26 September 2016)

Over the weekend Curiosity drove 43 m to the south, in search of a good place for contact science. Unfortunately, our present location is in a small valley, and we don’t have many good rock targets in the workspace. After evaluating the Mastcam drive direction imaging, we decided to drive further to the southwest. This should put us in front of a small exposure of cross-bedding for contact science in tomorrow’s plan.

I was GSTL today, and after we decided to keep driving, the planning day was pretty straightforward. We’re in late slide sols, so we got a late start to allow time for more data to come down. The plan includes several ChemCam observations to characterize the composition of the local bedrock and soil. We also planned a number of Mastcam mosaics to document some potentially coarser-grained rocks, sedimentary structures in the rocks in our workspace, and a linear feature that we can compare with observations from orbit. Then we’ll drive toward our intended contact science target, and take post-drive imaging to prepare for the activities tomorrow. As our SOWG Chair pointed out, today marks the first day of Curiosity’s second Extended Mission, so it’s exciting to think about what we’ll accomplish in this next chapter!

Sol 1474 update by Ken Herkenhoff: Murray cross-bedding (27 September 2016)

The 16-meter drive on Sol 1473 completed perfectly, placing the rover in position for contact science on an outcrop of cross-bedded Murray bedrock. The primary goal for Sol 1474 is to characterize the cross-bedding and measure grain sizes using MAHLI, and we were able to squeeze in a lot of other good observations. Before the arm is deployed, ChemCam will measure the chemical composition of the "Kopong" bedrock target, Mastcam will acquire mosaics of the Kopong outcrop and a couple of blocks behind it, and Navcam will search for clouds. The arm activities start with a full suite of MAHLI images of Kopong and a MAHLI mosaic of the left side of the outcrop, dubbed "Utuseb." Then the DRT will be used to brush off the "Jwaneng" target, with MAHLI images taken before and after the brushing. The APXS will be placed 0.5 centimeter from the center of the brushed spot for a short evening integration, then moved to the center of the brushed spot for an overnight integration. Finding good contact science targets that could be safely brushed and imaged was a challenge, but the tactical team did a great job, making it an easy day for me as SOWG Chair.

Sols 1475-1476 update by Ken Herkenhoff: Finishing up on Jwaneng (28 September 2016)

We're planning two sols, so it's been busier for me today as SOWG Chair. The science team had a lot of good ideas for new observations, so it was a challenge to fit them all into the plan, but in the end all went well. On Sol 1475, the arm will be moved out of the way to allow ChemCam and Mastcam multispectral observations of the Jwaneng brush spot and an outcrop target named "Munhango." The Right Mastcam will also acquire mosaics of targets dubbed "Luremo," "Nata," and "Maun" before the rover drives away. In addition to the usual post-drive imaging, ChemCam will autonomously acquire chemical data on a target selected by the AEGIS software. CheMin will analyze the latest drill sample overnight, and while the new data are being read out the next morning, Mastcam will measure the dust in the atmosphere, Navcam will search for clouds, and ChemCam will acquire passive spectra of the sky. These atmospheric observations will be repeated at noon to look for short-term changes. Finally, the rover will get some sleep in preparation for what will likely be a busy weekend.

Sols 1477-1479 update by Ryan Anderson: Rocky Road (30 September 2016)

Everything went well in our previous plan and we are making slow but steady progress over rough terrain toward our next drill location. We should get there by next weekend!

Today’s plan starts off with a bunch of remote sensing on Sol 1477. Navcam has an atmospheric observation, followed by ChemCam analysis of the targets “Chadibe”, “Bobonong”, and “Dukwi”. Mastcam will document those targets once ChemCam is done with them, as well as the ChemCam AEGIS target from yesterday. Mastcam also has a small mosaic of the target “Etsha” to study its fine-scale layers, and a larger mosaic to extend the drive-direction pan from Sol 1475. The Etsha mosaic will be repeated again later in the day. In the evening, APXS will analyze the chemistry of the target “Caugula” and “Catumbela” will be analyzed overnight. We will brush the dust off of Catumbela before the overnight analysis, and MAHLI will take images of the targets to support APXS.

On Sol 1478, ChemCam has observations of Catumbela and “Francistown,” with Mastcam support. Later in the day, ChemCam will do an automatically targeted AEGIS observation and MARDI. Sol 1479 will be full of routine engineering activities, so we didn’t plan any science blocks.

Sols 1480-1481 update by Ken Herkenhoff: Touch and Go! (3 October 2016)

MSL drove 12.5 meters on Sol 1478, to an area with lots of nodules in the bedrock. The tactical planning team decided to exercise the "touch and go" option, so the arm will be deployed for contact science before driving away on Sol 1480. The plan is packed with a variety of activities, starting with a short APXS integration and MAHLI imaging of a nodule-rich target named "Oodi." The arm will then be moved out of the way for ChemCam and Right Mastcam observations of Oodi and nearby bedrock targets "Calenga" and "Caconda." The Right Mastcam will also acquire images of targets dubbed "Chitembo," "Chingufo," and "Chipindo" to investigate sedimentary structures in more detail, and of the rock that AEGIS selected for autonomous ChemCam chemical measurements. Then Mastcam will measure dust in the atmosphere before the next drive and the usual post-drive imaging. Overnight, CheMin will analyze the Quela drill sample again, to improve the quality of mineralogical measurements. On Sol 1481, Navcam will search for clouds, AEGIS will autonomously select a target for ChemCam observations, and the results of the CheMin analysis will be read out of the instrument to the rover computer. Finally, SAM will perform a maintenance activity before the rover gets some sleep and recharges her batteries in preparation for the next 2-sol plan.

Sols 1482-1483 update by Ken Herkenhoff: Another touch and go (5 October 2016)

MSL drove another 35 meters on Sol 1480, stopping at a location with a layered bedrock exposure right in front of the rover. So the tactical planning team decided to take advantage of the touch and go option again. MAHLI will take pictures of the layered target "Cassongue" and of the rover wheels before the arm is stowed in preparation for another drive on Sol 1482. ChemCam and Mastcam will observe bedrock targets named "Coutada," "Cuangar," and "Cacuso," and the Right Mastcam will acquire mosaics of more distant targets dubbed "Lucusse" and "Lumeje." The Left Mastcam will be used to image the wheels on the right side of the rover and to extend the coverage of the terrain in the direction we plan to drive.

Because we don't expect to receive as much data as usual in time for planning on Friday, the volume and downlink priorities of post-drive imaging data had to be carefully scrubbed. On Sol 1483, AEGIS will again be used to autonomously select a target for a ChemCam observation. Navcam will search for clouds and Mastcam will take an image of the rover deck to look for changes in the distribution of dust and other debris. Finally, the Right Mastcam will take a look toward the east and acquire a 5-image mosaic of the Murray Buttes in the distance.

Sols 1484-1486 update by Ken Herkenhoff: Dropping off samples to SAM (7 October 2016)

The MSL rover made another 40 meters of progress up the flank of Mt. Sharp on Sol 1482, and there were multiple bedrock blocks within reach of the arm for the weekend plan. A smooth patch on a nearby block was selected for DRT brushing and associated imaging, and named "Serowe." The Sol 1484 plan also includes two dropoffs of the latest drill sample to SAM, a full suite of MAHLI images and short APXS measurement of "Tobane" on another bedrock block. That evening, the APXS will be placed on Serowe for an overnight integration. Early the next morning, Navcam will search for clouds and dust devils, and Mastcam will measure the amount of dust in the atmosphere. Later on Sol 1485, the arm will be stowed to allow ChemCam and Mastcam to observe Serowe and Tobane, and the Right Mastcam will acquire a mosaic of laminated bedrock dubbed "Masunga." Then another drive is planned, along with the usual post-drive imaging. AEGIS will be used to select a ChemCam target on Sol 1486, and Mastcam will again measure dust in the atmosphere. Finally, MSL will sleep in preparation for Monday's activities.

Sols 1487-1488 update by Ken Herkenhoff: Cleaning CheMin (10 October 2016)

While some of us enjoyed the Columbus Day holiday, MSL continued working on Mars. The rover drove over 36 meters on Sol 1485, and another drive is planned for Sol 1487. But first, ChemCam and Mastcam will observe vein and bedrock targets named "Palapye," "Tutume," "Shoshong," and "Molepolole." The Right Mastcam will also acquire mosaics of sedimentary structures exposed at "Tsandi" and of potential drill targets at "Mowe Bay." After the drive, AEGIS will be used to select two ChemCam targets and CheMin will attempt to clean a clump of the Quela drill sample from its inlet funnel by vibrating it. Only a few activities are planned for Sol 1488, including a passive DAN measurement and the usual background REMS and RAD observations, so the rover batteries should be charged and ready for Wednesday's plan.

Sols 1489-1490 update by Lauren Edgar: 100 m of Mount Sharp! (12 October 2016)

As of today, Curiosity has reached an elevation that is 100 m above the Confidence Hills site, where we first encountered the Murray formation. That means that in the last 2 years we’ve climbed through 100 m of stratigraphy forming the base of Mount Sharp. This is amazing progress, and attests to an incredible thickness of primarily lacustrine sediment!

Today’s plan is focused on bumping to our next drill location as we continue to systematically sample the Murray formation. The two-sol plan starts with a Mastcam tau and crater rim extinction observation to measure atmospheric opacity. Then Curiosity will acquire several ChemCam observations of the targets “Sangwali,” “Orapa,” and “Katima Mulilo” to assess the composition of the local bedrock. We’ll also acquire two Mastcam mosaics to characterize the lamination style in the Murray. Then we’ll drive to the intended drill location, and take post-drive imaging to prepare for contact science and drill activities. We’ll also squeeze in a ChemCam calibration activity in the afternoon. Sol 1490 will be relatively quiet, with a Navcam observation to look for clouds above the north rim of the crater and a MARDI image to document the terrain post-drive. We’re keeping it light on data volume to prepare for all of the drill activities later this week.

Keep climbing Curiosity!


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

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Emily Lakdawalla

Solar System Specialist for The Planetary Society
Read more articles by Emily Lakdawalla

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