Curiosity update: It’s always sunny in Gale Crater

tactical_team_viewing_eclipse20170821-br2Sol 1793, August 21, 2017, update by MSL scientist Abigail Fraeman: Not to be overshadowed by other goings on in the solar system today, we planned a full day of activities for Curiosity. Unfortunately, some of the arm activities and the drive we planned over the weekend didn’t execute because Mars was slightly colder than we expected, and we didn’t heat the actuators in the arm for quite long enough. Tosol we’re therefore planning to recoup the contact science observations we had planned on sandy ripples in front of the rover. We will be taking MAHLI images of targets “The Shivers,” “Trumpet,” and “Hosmer,” and also an APXS observation of Trumpet.

pinhole_curiosity_eclipse20170821-brFollowing the contact science activities, we’ll go for a drive that continues along the strategically planned route towards the area Curiosity will ascend Vera Rubin Ridge. Between the many arm activities and drive, we didn’t have time to get targeted remote sensing science in the plan, but we did plan a post-drive Mastcam clast survey, some deck monitoring, a MARDI, standard DAN and REMS activities, and a ChemCam LIBS observation of the calibration target onboard the rover. (…)

Solar eclipses happen on Mars too, although the Martian moons Phobos and Deimos are too small to completely cover the Sun like on Earth. Curiosity has had the opportunity to observe several of these awesome celestial events throughout the mission… [More at links]

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HiRISE: The hoodoos of Mars

ESP_050626_1565On Mars, we often see inverted river channels preserved perched above the surrounding terrain because the sediment inside the river channel was stronger than its surroundings. This is common in the American Southwest in places where lava flowed down river channels and the surrounding sandstone subsequently eroded away leaving ridges in places that started as valleys.

There’s another example of high-standing columns protected by a strong cap rock, called “hoodoos.” Looking closer at our image, we see what looks like a crater and its rays of ejecta, preserved and slightly higher than the surrounding terrain, possibly due to a similar process. [More at link]

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Blizzards on Mars strike at night

figure-3Mars researchers have long thought that because the water content of the martian atmosphere today is so low, any clouds that form will produce only modest precipitation. For example, in 2008 the Mars Phoenix lander detected falling snow from a cloud, but the flakes mostly evaporated before reaching the surface, producing no accumulation.

However, new research based on numerical simulations shows that martian clouds undergo rapid cooling at night. This sets up strong convective motions within the clouds, and the result can be heavy snowfall during nighttime.

The results are published in Nature Geoscience by a team led by Aymeric Spiga (Laboratoire de Météorologie Dynamique and Université Pierre-et-Marie-Curie, Paris). The scientists say that their simulations of the meteorology in martian cloudy regions show that strong localized snowstorms can occur on Mars. They add that such snowstorms, which they term “ice microbursts,” can explain deep convective layers detected from orbit at night, as well as the precipitation detected by the Phoenix lander falling from water-ice clouds.

Their simulations show that “convective snowstorms occur only during the martian night, and result from atmospheric instability due to radiative cooling of water-ice cloud particles.”  This, they say, “triggers strong convective plumes within and below clouds, with fast snow precipitation resulting from the vigorous descending currents.”

The team adds that the nighttime snowfall would be much stronger during epochs when the martian atmosphere contains more water vapor, such as when Mars’ axis is tilted more steeply to the planet’s orbit than the current 24°.  [More at link]

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THEMIS: Faulting at east end of Hebes Chasma

Fault in east end of Hebes Chasma (themis_iotd_20170822)THEMIS Image of the Day, August 22, 2017. This image shows the eastern portion of Hebes Chasma. The ridge that is casting a shadow at the bottom of the image is likely a large tectonic fault. All of the materials on the floor of the chasma are from the cliff faces. The deposition and erosion of the materials in this image are very different from the those of the large central mesa.

Hebes Chasma is an enclosed basin near to Valles Marineris, though not connected to it. The cliff faces of the chasma itself and the interior mesa appear quite different, which may provide information on how the chasma and the mesa formed. (More on Hebes Chasma here.)

NASA’s Mars Odyssey spacecraft has spent over 15 years in orbit around Mars, circling the planet more than 69,000 times. It holds the record for longest working spacecraft at Mars. THEMIS, the IR/VIS camera system, has collected data for the entire mission and provides images covering all seasons and lighting conditions.

Over the years many features of interest have received repeated imaging, building up a suite of images covering the entire feature. From the deepest chasma to the tallest volcano, individual dunes inside craters and dune fields that encircle the north pole, channels carved by water and lava, and a variety of other feature, THEMIS has imaged them all.

For the next several months the Image of the Day will focus on the Tharsis volcanoes, the various chasmata of Valles Marineris, and the major dunes fields. We hope you enjoy these images!

More THEMIS Images of the Day by geological topic.

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Curiosity: Still in place

1792-navcamSol 1792, August 21, 2017. Despite plans for a 40-meter (130-foot) drive, Curiosity remains where it has been since Sol 1789. The Navcam shot a composite showing Mt. Sharp, Vera Rubin Ridge, and the ground in front of the rover. Click image to enlarge it.

Sol 1792 raw images (from all cameras), and Curiosity’s latest location.

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HiRISE: Landslide domes near Uzboi Vallis

tumblr_osseer2ZJ21rlz4gso1_1280Landslide dome dunes near Uzboi Vallis. Beautiful Mars series.

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THEMIS: North wall of Hebes Chasma

North wall of Hebes Chasma (THEMIS_IOTD_20170821)THEMIS Image of the Day, August 21, 2017. This image shows the north central cliff face of Hebes Chasma. The cliff face and downslope movement of material is very different in appearance than the same features of the large mesa in the center of the chasma.

Hebes Chasma is an enclosed basin near to Valles Marineris, though not connected to it. The cliff faces of the chasma itself and the interior mesa appear quite different, which may provide information on how the chasma and the mesa formed. (More on Hebes Chasma here.)

NASA’s Mars Odyssey spacecraft has spent over 15 years in orbit around Mars, circling the planet more than 69,000 times. It holds the record for longest working spacecraft at Mars. THEMIS, the IR/VIS camera system, has collected data for the entire mission and provides images covering all seasons and lighting conditions.

Over the years many features of interest have received repeated imaging, building up a suite of images covering the entire feature. From the deepest chasma to the tallest volcano, individual dunes inside craters and dune fields that encircle the north pole, channels carved by water and lava, and a variety of other feature, THEMIS has imaged them all.

For the next several months the Image of the Day will focus on the Tharsis volcanoes, the various chasmata of Valles Marineris, and the major dunes fields. We hope you enjoy these images!

More THEMIS Images of the Day by geological topic.

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Curiosity update: A science-filled weekend

FLB_556311890EDR_F0651174FHAZ00330M_-br2Sol 1790-92, August 18, 2017, update by MSL scientist Mark Salvatore: Even though Curiosity did not drive the planned 15 meters yesterday evening (she only made it about 11 meters), she moved far enough down the road to get in good position to acquire a full high-resolution mosaic of Vera Rubin Ridge (VRR) over the weekend, which was the hope for yesterday’s drive. In addition, Curiosity parked herself in a nice sandy location where we can continue to investigate sand ripples on our way towards the ridge. Today, the science team planned a full weekend of scientific investigations and data collection.

ChemCam will kick off this weekend’s science plan by investigating the chemistry of two of the few rocky targets in front of the rover: “Zephyr Ledges,” the multi-toned flaky patch of rocky material surrounded by sand ripples, and “Wallace Ledge,” which is a more massive piece of rock a bit further from the rover. Following these chemistry measurements, Mastcam will be used to document these two rocky targets… [More at link]

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Curiosity udate: Inching closer

NRB_556226499EDR_F0650916NCAM00375M_-br2Sol 1789, August 17, 2017, update by MSL scientist Mark Salvatore: As Curiosity inches closer towards ascending Vera Rubin Ridge (VRR), the science team is continuing to be diligent in both characterizing the local surroundings while also looking ahead and imaging the ridge upon approach. Today’s plan is a perfect example of these split scientific priorities. The team selected several targets near the rover to analyze using its remote sensing instruments, while also allowing time for the rover to drive approximately 15 meters ahead and get into position for tomorrow’s science and this weekend’s long imaging campaign of VRR.

After Curiosity awakes at about 10am local time on Mars (approximately 9pm PDT on Thursday evening), her scientific activities will begin with two active ChemCam chemistry investigations of two bedrock targets immediately in front of the rover. The first target (named “Megee,” located just above the shadow of Curiosity’s mast in the lower portion of the image) contains an interesting linear feature that is likely a… [More at link]

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HiRISE: Mid-latitude terrain sample

tumblr_oskyw1wiIi1rlz4gso1_1280Mid-latitude terrain sample. These cutouts utilize the infrared-red-blue (IRB) filter.

Beautiful Mars series.

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