Opportunity field report: June 21, 2017

Slide5sSol 4766, June 21, 2017; Rover Field Report by Larry Crumpler, MER Science Team & New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science: Opportunity is doing a geologic walkabout at the entrance to Perseverance Valley. There is an odd trough-like feature leading into the entrance of the valley and the natural suspicion is that it could be the water course that supplied the valley. We would like to get a look at the geology to see if that is what formed the trough. Also, once Opportunity starts descending the valley, it will not be driving back up slope. We fully intend to exit out the bottom of the valley inside Endeavour crater. So any questions we have about what went into the valley to form it, we need to ask and answer now.

Meanwhile, there is the mater of solar conjunction coming up in  a few weeks. Solar conjunction is a period of two to three weeks during which Mars is behind the sun or nearly so, and communications wibetween Earth and Mars is a bit sketchy. We have decided to wait outside the valley until solar conjunction is over. Then Opportunity will begin the descent in ernest. That will be around the beginning of August. [More at link]

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Laser-targeting AI yields more science

aegis20170621Artificial intelligence is changing how we study Mars. A.I. software on NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has helped it zap dozens of laser targets on the Red Planet this past year, becoming a frequent science tool when the ground team was out of contact with the spacecraft. This same software has proven useful enough that it’s already scheduled for NASA’s upcoming mission, Mars 2020.

A new paper in Science: Robotics looks at how the software has performed since rolling out to Curiosity’s science team in May 2016. The AEGIS software, or Autonomous Exploration for Gathering Increased Science, has been used to direct Curiosity’s ChemCam instrument 54 times since then. It’s used on almost every drive when the power resources are available for it, according to the paper’s authors. (…)

AEGIS allows the rover to get more science done while Curiosity’s human controllers are out of contact. Each day, they program a list of commands for it to execute based on the previous day’s images and data. If those commands include a drive, the rover may reach new surroundings several hours before it is able to receive new instructions. AEGIS allows it to autonomously zap rocks that scientists may want to investigate later.

“Time is precious on Mars,” said lead author Raymond Francis of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. Francis is the lead system engineer for AEGIS’ deployment on the Curiosity rover. “AEGIS allows us to make use of time that otherwise wasn’t available because we were waiting for someone on Earth to make a decision.” [More at links]

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HiRISE: Utopia Planitia

tumblr_oqbkebMP7R1rlz4gso1_1280Utopia Planitia, a name that literally means “plains of nowhere.” Beautiful Mars series.

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Opportunity: Straightens wheel, resumes driving

4767-navcamOpportunity Status Report, June 22, 2017: The rover experienced a left-front wheel steering actuator stall on Sol 4750 (June 4, 2017), leaving the wheel toed out by 33 degrees. Our initial attempts to straighten the wheel failed to yield any results and were suggestive of a mechanical cause for the stalls (in the steering actuator). Fortunately, however a repeat of the diagnostics on Sol 4763 (June 17, 2017), added a twist that may have made a difference….

This very good result was tempered by the fact that we still do not know for certain what the cause of the stalls was and whether the problem could reoccur. Therefore, Opportunity will be exercising a precautionary partial moratorium on usage of the steering actuators for the foreseeable future. Specifically, this directs no front usage of steering actuators and only rear usage as circumstances might demand. Instead, tank turning and steering will be used wherever possible… [More at link; click image to enlarge it]

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THEMIS: Channels across lava plains near Nirgal Vallis

Channels near Nirgal Vallis THEMIS Art #131 (THEMIS_IOTD_20170622)THEMIS Image of the Day, June 22, 2017. Do you see what I do? Someone on Mars is smiling at me. (THEMIS Art #131)

More THEMIS Images of the Day by geological topic.

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Curiosity: Vera Rubin Ridge

Sol 1732, June 20, 2017. Four Navcam shots detail the skyline of Vera Rubin Ridge. Before taking these images, Curiosity drove more than 13 meters (43 feet) to the east-southeast. Rover drivers are threading a course between sand ripple patches as they head for a path up onto the ridge. (Click image to enlarge it.)

Sol 1732 raw images (from all cameras), and Curiosity’s latest location.

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MARCI weather report, June 12-18, 2017

MARCI-June-15-2017Local-scale dust-raising activity continued this past week with sporadic storms over the mid-to-high latitudes of both northern and southern hemispheres. Towards the beginning of the week, dust storms were spotted pushing southward over the plains of Acidalia and Utopia. Looking further north, the seasonal ice cap edge had retreated to ~61°N latitude. In the tropics, the plateaus of Syria and Solis experienced a transient dust storm or two in the first half of the week. Diffuse water-ice clouds persisted over the slopes of Olympus, Elysium, and the Tharsis Montes… [More at link, including video]

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Opportunity: Rolling again

4766-navcamSol 4766, June 21, 2017. Opportunity is rolling again, this time with a drive of 4.7 meters (15 feet) to the west-northwest. The multi-frame Pancam composite (above) was taken at a local time of 4 pm in an eastward direction that is almost straight “downsun.” Thus surface details are largely washed out. (Click image to enlarge it.)

Opportunity raw images, its latest mission status, location map, and atmospheric opacity, known as tau.

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THEMIS: Dunes, dust devil tracks, and wind streaks on northern polar lowlands

Northern dunes and wind streaks THEMIS Art #130 (THEMIS_IOTD_20170621)THEMIS Image of the Day, June 21, 2017. Do you see what I see? Look out, a barrage of bullets is headed our way! (THEMIS Art #130)

More THEMIS Images of the Day by geological topic.

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HiRISE images Curiosity on its way to the ridge

PIA21710_hiresUsing the most powerful telescope ever sent to Mars, NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter caught a view of the Curiosity rover this month amid rocky mountainside terrain.

The car-size rover, climbing up lower Mount Sharp toward its next destination, appears as a blue dab against a background of tan rocks and dark sand in the enhanced-color image from the orbiter’s High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera. The exaggerated color, showing differences in Mars surface materials, makes Curiosity appear bluer than it really looks.

The image was taken on June 5, 2017, two months before the fifth anniversary of Curiosity’s landing near Mount Sharp on Aug. 5 PDT (Aug. 6, 2017, EDT and Universal Time).

When the image was taken, Curiosity was partway between its investigation of active sand dunes lower on Mount Sharp, and “Vera Rubin Ridge,” a destination uphill where the rover team intends to examine outcrops where hematite has been identified from Mars orbit. [More at link and here]

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