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 – 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 – 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 – Science from ChemCam

Coronation Spectrum
ChemCam Spectrum from the Rock Named Coronation
Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / LANL / CNES / IRAP

Earlier this week, Curiosity used its Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) to record the ultraviolet (UV), violet, visible and near-infrared spectra from a rock called Coronation. The rock was bombarded with 30 laser pulses, and the light recorded by three spectrometers.

Viewing the enlarged image, minor elements titanium and manganese show in the insert on the left in the 398-to-404-nanometer range, and Hydrogen shows up in the right hand insert with carbon (from carbon dioxide in the Martian atmosphere). Hydrogen was only present in the first laser shot, indicating it was present only in the surface material.

The preliminary analysis shows the rock to probably be basalt, a common volcanic rock on Mars. Coronation is about 8 centimeters across and was located about 1.5 meters from Curiosity (prior to its drive yesterday).

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.

Curiosity – Laser Beam and the ChemCam

Laser Beam and ChemCam Explore the Chemistry of Mars Rock
Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / LANL / CNES / IRAP

Two sols ago, Curiosity fired its laser at the fist sized rock called “Coronation”, ChemCam (Chemistry Camera) recorded the light from the elements vaporized by the laser and analyzed it with three spectrometers. The small square in the image is 8 mm across.

One question that this test will answer is whether the composition of the vaporized rock changed during the sequence of 30 laser pulses. If so, it could indicate that there was dust on the surface prior to the rock beneath being vaporized.

ChemCam is the first instrument capable of analyzing the elemental make up of material on Mars. Previous instruments on Spirit and Opportunity could take spectral data of rock minerals in the infrared and with alpha particle scattering and X-rays:

  • Miniature Thermal Emission Spectrometer (Mini-TES)
  • Mössbauer Spectrometer (MB)
  • Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS)

Curiosity is also equipped with an Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer.

ChemCam was developed, built and tested by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Los Alamos National Laboratory in partnership with scientists and engineers funded by France’s national space agency, Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES) and research agency, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS).

Below is the first image showing the extension of the robotic arm. The 7-foot-long (2.1-meter-long) arm maneuvers a turret of tools including a camera, a drill, a spectrometer, a scoop and mechanisms for sieving and portioning samples of powdered rock and soil.

Robot Arm
Robotic Arm on Curiosity Extended for the First Time on Mars
Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech