Curiosity – Sol 130

By the middle of December, Curiosity had reached the Glenelg region of Gale Crater and descended into the Yellowknife Bay depression. Curiosity is now exploring for the first target rock for it’s hammering drill.

After leaving Bradbury Landing, Curiosity spent extensive time at Rocknest (Sols 55-100), and followed this with investigations around Point Lake (Sols 102-124).

Curiosity Map
Map of Curiosity’s Travels During the first 130 Sols
Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / University of Arizona

Curiosity – Mars Rover and the First Hundred Days

Curiosity
Artist Conception – Curiosity’s Laser and ChemCam
Image Credit: NASA

Curiosity set down at Bradbury Landing (see below) on Mars at 10:32 PM PDT on 5 August 2012 and has finished her first hundred Sols.

Curiosity Landing Site
Curiosity Landing Site in Gale Crater
Image Credit: NASA

The image below maps out the route from Bradbury Landing to the mixed terrain at Glenelg, which marks the first major destination for the rover.

Curiosity spent the first three weeks checking out her equipment. The discolored and disturbed area around the landing site resulted from the blast of the rocket engines that settled Curiosity on the surface. While there, she used her Laser and ChemCam on a rock called “Coronation” to obtain some early measurements.

Then she started moving. By Sol 30, Curiosity was more than 100 yards from where she landed, and began testing her robotic arm.

Bradbury Landing to Glenelg
Curiosity – From Bradbury Landing to Glenelg
Image Credit: NASA

At the end of testing the arm, Curiosity was five weeks into her two years of planned exploration. She then set out on a drive of 20 sols to a site called “Rocknest”.

The center of the 360 degree panorama (below) is due South. Mount Sharp (in the center of Gale Crater) is off to the left. “Rocknest” is off to the right. The edges of the image are due North. Click on the image to enlarge.

Rocknest
Panorama of “Rocknest”
Image Credit: NASA

While at “Rocknest”, Curiosity spent almost five weeks exploring. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Sol 59 – Arrival at “Rocknest”
  • Sol 61 – First scoop of soil
  • Sol 64 – Decontamination of Sieve
  • Sol 66 – Second scoop
  • Sol 69 – Third Scoop
  • Sol 71 – Sample place in ChemMin
  • Sol 79 – Sample Results – “Hawaii”
  • Sol 86 – SAM Atmosphere tests

Below are two images. On the left is a picture of one of the trenches left by the scoop on the robotic arm. To the right is a close up of the scoop (1.5 x 2.5 inches) filled with the fine dust and sand from “Rocknest”.

Scooping
Trenching and Scooping at “Rocknest”
Image Credit: NASA

Mars rover Curiosity has completed initial experiments showing the mineralogy of Martian soil is similar to weathered basaltic soils of volcanic origin in Hawaii, with significant amounts of feldspar, pyroxene and olivine.

A few days ago, she resumed her journey toward Glenelg.

Curiosity – Glenelg

Glenelg
Curiosity – First Target will be Glenelg.
Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / University of Arizona

Glenelg, a site (blue dot) about 400 meters from where Curiosity landed, has been selected as the first target for the rover. Glenelg is a palindrome, and was thought appropriate because the rover will visit the spot (below) twice during its exploration of the area, before heading to the base of Mount Sharp.

Glenelg
Glenelg – Intersection of three Types of Terrain
Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / University of Arizona

Scientists are interested in the bright terrain at the top because this may be bedrock, which could be a good target for Curiosity’s first drilling experiment. The second terrain, below and right, shows extensive small craters and may represent an older or harder surface. The last area, below and left, is the type of terrain where Curiosity landed and scientists can try to determine if the same kind of rock texture at Goulburn, an area where blasts from the descent stage rocket engines scoured away some of the surface, also occurs at Glenelg.

If an appropriate site is found, the rover will use its drill to extract a few grains and feed them into the rover’s analytical instruments, SAM and CheMin, which will then make very detailed mineralogical and other investigations.

The Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) is a suite of three instruments, including a mass spectrometer, gas chromatograph, and a tunable laser spectrometer, which will look for compounds of the element carbon, including methane, that are associated with life. The instruments will explore ways in which they are generated and destroyed in the martian ecosphere. SAM will also look for and measure the abundances of other light elements, such as hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen, associated with life.

The Chemistry and Mineralogy instrument (CheMin) will identify and measure the abundances of various minerals on Mars.

Once this initial exploration is complete (which could take a month or more), the rover will aim to drive to the blue spot marked “Base of Mt. Sharp”.

This is a break in the dunes that should let Curiosity begin moving up the slopes. The base of Mount Sharp is composed of layered buttes and mesas, and should reveal the geological history of the area.

Curiosity – First Drive at Bradbury Landing

First Drive
Curiosity Makes First Drive at Bradbury Landing
Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

360° image of Bradbury Landing taken from Curiosity following 20 feet of driving, the first movement on Mars for this rover. The drive comprised a forward segment, a 90° turn and a short drive in reverse. The soil is relatively firm and no problems were encountered.

The landing site has been named for famed science fiction author Ray Bradbury, author of many books, including “The Martian Chronicles”. Bradbury died in June at 92.

In the image, one can see the scouring of the surface from the four rocket engines of the Sky Crane, which lowered Curiosity to the surface. Earlier this week, the Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument recorded spectra from laser pulses fired at rocks exposed by the rocket blasts. Preliminary results suggest that the rocks may be basalt within a sedimentary deposit.

Mission operators expect to spend several days in the landing area before setting off on a 400 meter drive to the east-southeast.