16 July 2017
Planetary scientists take their vacations when the planets align. In our case it is because communications with Mars are blacked out when the red planet goes behind the sun. It is called a solar conjunction. Afterwards, Mars will re-appear in our terrestrial skies early in the morning, just before sunrise. As the Earth chases the Red Planet, Mars will rise earlier until at opposition, when the Earth passes Mars a little over a year from now, the Red Planet will be directly overhead at midnight, e.g., directly behind Earth, relative to the sun.
For the Curiosity rover team, we will cease operations this weekend. There is one more day, tomorrow, for some instruments, while others like arm instruments and ChemCam cut out early, as we want to verify it is sun safe (its focus stage parked at a safe position) before we leave the rover on its own. The team will check on the rover on August 4 and re-start full operations on August 7. In the meantime, Curiosity might just get lonely.
Yestersol‘s drive was 38 meters, bringing the mission total to just over 17 km. The rover is now facing a steep 20 meter high section of the ridge. The image link shows the front Hazcam view looking straight up the ridge. We won’t climb it here; there’s a gentler slope to the east.
Today it was decided not to drive any further before conjunction. The rover is on a ~8 degree slope right now and the team didn’t want to risk a lot of slip just before conjunction. The team planned the last ChemCams pre-conjunction, with targets ‘Jimmies Ledge’ and ‘Jennys Nubble.’ Mastcam will take a 2-image mosaic of the top portion of the ridge and provide documentation of yestersol‘s ChemCam AEGIS observation. Navcam will be used to make a dust devil movie and a suprahorizon movie looking south.
Written by Roger Wiens, Geochemist at Los Alamos National Laboratory