Curiosity update: Onwards to Midland Valley

FLA_603291107EDR_F0740210FHAZ00337M_-br2Sols 2320-23, February 14, 2019, update by MSL scientist Catherine O’Connell: Today was a very busy planning day for the Curiosity operations team. We planned a 3-sol plan, with contact science, imaging, environmental monitoring and a drive.

Our weekend plan brought us to a block of coherent rock, a treat after spending many workspaces in more broken up and rubbly areas. The Geology (GEO) theme group uplinked lots of contact science here on Monday, so we are ready to leave and drive on to the next coherent block we have identified in the distance, a target known as “Midland Valley.” Before leaving however, we planned contact science on “Ladder Hills,” a beautiful example of laminated bedrock. APXS will be used to determine the chemistry, to compare it to our other targets in this workspace “Gannet” and “Curlew.” MAHLI will take images of the laminations within Ladder Hills from two different angles – straight downwards onto the rock surface (the spot where APXS will also analyze), and from an oblique angle. ChemCam will acquire active LIBS (laser) analysis of Ladder Hills, in addition to analysis of “Fyvie,” a large pebble for comparison with bedrock targets… [More at link]

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Opportunity: Hazcam tour of Meridiani Planum, Sols 1-5104

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HiRISE: Plains with diverse lithologies

ESP_054596_1565Plains with diverse lithologies. This observation was a “nadir” target, meaning our camera was pointing straight down at the surface. These pockmarked plains outside of a larger impact crater show some very nice colors. The top cutout is from our red-green-blue filter, and the bottom uses the infrared-red-blue filter. Both are less than 1 km across.

HiRISE Picture of the Day archive [More at links]

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THEMIS: Kaiser Crater dunes

Kaiser Crater dunes (THEMIS_IOTD_20190215)THEMIS Image of the Day, February 15, 2019. This VIS image is located in Kaiser Crater and shows several individual dunes. These dunes’ dark tone suggests they are free of dust, hence active.

With continued winds sand dunes will move across the surface. There are two sides to a dune, the low angle slope of the windward face and the high angle slope of the leeward side.

The steep side is called the slip face. Wind blows sand grains up the low angle slope of the dunes which then “fall down” the slip face. In this way the whole dune moves towards the slip face.

The winds blow from the windward to the leeward side of the dunes. In this image the slip faces are on the left side of the dune, so the dunes are slowly moving to the right side of this image.

See more THEMIS Images of the Day by geological subject.

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Weather at Gale Crater

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Six things to know about Opportunity

IDL TIFF fileAfter 15 years, the mission of NASA’s Opportunity rover has come to an end, but its successes on Mars have earned it a spot in the robot hall of fame. Here’s what you need to know about our intrepid Martian overachiever:

1. Opportunity was a twin.

The Mars Exploration Rovers mission featured two identical, golf-cart-sized, solar-powered rovers: Spirit and Opportunity. Spirit landed at Gusev Crater on Jan. 4, 2004. Opportunity landed on the opposite side of Mars at Meridiani Planum on Jan. 24, 2004 PST (Jan. 25 EST). Both rovers were managed for NASA by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

2. Opportunity and Spirit showed that Mars had the wet and warm conditions in its ancient past that were potentially hospitable to life.

Foremost among Spirit and Opportunity’s many science discoveries: Mars was likely wetter and warmer in the past. These conditions could have served as a cradle for life on Mars at a time when life first emerged on Earth.

Opportunity contributed several key findings to this conclusion. It was the first rover to identify and characterize sedimentary rocks on a planet other than Earth. Opportunity’s measurements showed these rocks formed in ancient ephemeral playas. Opportunity also discovered small spheres of hematite nicknamed “blueberries” that formed late from rising, acidic groundwater.

Once Opportunity reached the rim of Endeavour crater, the rover found white veins of the mineral gypsum – a telltale sign of water that traveled through underground fractures. Opportunity also found more compelling signs of Mars’ watery past in the rocks of Endeavour Crater: clay minerals that formed in neutral-pH (not too acidic, not too basic) water. Of all the places studied by Opportunity, the environment at Endeavour had the friendliest conditions for ancient microbial life… [More at link]

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HiRISE: Layered sedimentary rocks in Meridiani Planum

ESP_054594_1815-2Layered sedimentary rocks in Meridiani Planum. Ah, the loveliness of Meridiani. Meridiani Planum is a plain located south of Mars’ equator, in the westernmost portion of Terra Meridiani. It hosts a rare occurrence of gray crystalline hematite, which on Earth, often forms in hot springs or in standing pools of water. Hmmm….

HiRISE Picture of the Day archive [More at links]

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Opportunity report, Sol 5353, by A.J.S. Rayl, The Planetary Society

20190214_3OppyinPerseveranceValleyjpgcopy2February 14, 2019: NASA Declares Opportunity and MER Mission ‘Complete’ It happened last night. At around 8 pm February 12, 2019, Pacific Standard Time (PST), as the strains of Billie Holiday singing “I’ll Be Seeing You” filled the Space Flight Operations Center at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the final commands were transmitted to Opportunity, the Mars Exploration Rover that defied all odds – and with the help of her team on Earth – turned a 90-day mission into an overland expedition that lasted nearly 15 years, inspired generations of young people, produced volumes of new data, rewrote textbooks, changed the way humanity saw the Red Planet, created a culture that remarkably blended science and engineering in a way no other NASA mission ever has, and so much more.

In the minutes or hours after the robot sent what would be her final missive from Mars on June 10, 2018, the worst planet-encircling dust event (PEDE) that NASA scientists have ever observed stopped Opportunity in her tracks. As the robot hunkered down about halfway down Perseverance Valley, inside Endeavour Crater’s western rim, the storm pummeled the site with dust. The rover has been silent ever since.

The final ‘Hail Mary’ in a series of last-ditch efforts that began in late January was bolstered by all the hope the MER team launched with the commands. But MER Principal Investigator Steve Squyres, of Cornell University, and NASA and JPL officials who were also present with the Deep Space Network’s Aces as they launched the transmissions, heard only sounds of silence.

And so, after a total of more than 835 commands sent since last June, the Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters, Thomas Zurbuchen, declared the MER mission “complete” at a press conference and celebration held Wednesday, February 13, 2019, at JPL, the first home of all NASA’s Mars rovers.

“It’s heartbreaking,” Squyres told The MER Update, pausing. “But it had to happen sometime, right?

“Everything comes to an end and this is coming to an end. Can you think of a better way to go out? After 14-and-half years, we get killed off by the worst dust storm observed in 40 years. This is the final act and the biggest thing in my career and the biggest thing in my life except for my kids, and it feels okay. We should be so proud of what we’ve done, so proud of what we have accomplished – coaxed a solar-powered rover through 14-and-a-half years on Mars when it was designed for three months. It’s astonishing.” [Much more at link]

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THEMIS: High-latitude dune field

High-latitude dune field (THEMIS_IOTD_20190214)THEMIS Image of the Day, February 14, 2019. Today’s VIS image shows a dune field on a crater floor in Terra Cimmeria. Dunes at high latitudes – near the polar caps – are affected by seasonal frost and ice.

The interactions with frost/ice reduces the amount of movement of sand grains within the dunes. This changes the morphology of near polar dunes when compared to dunes at lower latitudes where ice/frost do not occur as frequently.

A close look at the image reveals many curving dust devil tracks in the terrain next to the dune field. The dust devils were probably driven by an atmospheric temperature contrast between the dark dunes and light-toned landscape.  This crater’s latitude is 68 degrees south of the equator.

See more THEMIS Images of the Day by geological subject.

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InSight deploys heat flow package

PIA23046-1041NASA’s InSight lander has placed its second instrument on the Martian surface. New images confirm that the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package, or HP3, was successfully deployed on Feb. 12 about 3 feet (1 meter) from InSight’s seismometer, which the lander recently covered with a protective shield. HP3measures heat moving through Mars’ subsurface and can help scientists figure out how much energy it takes to build a rocky world.

Equipped with a self-hammering spike, mole, the instrument will burrow up to 16 feet (5 meters) below the surface, deeper than any previous mission to the Red Planet. For comparison, NASA’s Viking 1 lander scooped 8.6 inches (22 centimeters) down. The agency’s Phoenix lander, a cousin of InSight, scooped 7 inches (18 centimeters) down.

“We’re looking forward to breaking some records on Mars,” said HP3 Principal Investigator Tilman Spohn of the German Aerospace Center (DLR), which provided the heat probe for the InSight mission. “Within a few days, we’ll finally break ground using a part of our instrument we call the mole.” [More at link]

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