23 April 2018
Curiosity drove a whopping ~85 m to the northwest in the sol 2027 plan. Besides being long, this drive was remarkable because it marked a shift in Curiosity’s strategic campaign: we have officially finished our initial reconnaissance of Vera Rubin Ridge, and we are beginning our journey down off the ridge, heading north into an area where we would like to test the rover’s drill. The guidance from the team is now ‘drive, drive, drive!,’ while still doing as much opportunistic science as we can along the way of course.
With the sol 2027 drive, we have also officially entered the Biwabik Quad. You may recall we flirted with the boundary of this quad back on sol 2004-2007 and 2009-2012. Biwabik is a city in the United States in northern Minnesota that is connected with the Mesabi Range. This range contains a vast iron deposit, so we felt it was a perfect choice for the hematite-rich area we are currently exploring. (Hematite is an iron-rich mineral). Entering a new quad means we have a fresh set of target names to choose from, which added some fun to our morning planning. One of the names we chose, ‘Babbitt,’ is named after a city of ~1,500 residents about 30 miles away from Biwabik. Our Flagstaff-based team members also liked this name because it was reminiscent of the famous Babbitt Brothers who made a name for themselves as cattle ranchers in Flagstaff Arizona in the early 1900s.
We planned 3-sols today. In the first sol, we will have a morning remote sensing block with ChemCam observations of rock targets ‘Ely,’ Babbitt, and ‘Hibbing.’ These observations will be accompanied by Mastcam documentation images. We will also take a Mastcam mosaic and some multispectral frames of a nearby crater, and we have named this feature ‘Taconite.’ The remote sensing block will be followed by MAHLI and APXS observations of Babbitt. In the second sol of the plan, we will take a morning dust devil movie and use MAHLI to look at our wheels and document any punctures that may have formed over the last few hundred meters of driving. This will be followed by short drive along our strategic route with post-drive imaging activities that will set us up for a touch and go on Monday. The third sol of the plan is all about monitoring the Martian environment. We will take an overnight measurement with APXS to understand the Argon abundance in the atmosphere (it varies seasonally), and spend the morning taking a zenith movie, horizon movie, crater rim extinction imaging, and tau measurement. We will also use the ChemCam instrument in passive mode to take a spectrum on the atmosphere around noon. It will be a fun and busy weekend on Mars!
Written by Abigail Fraeman, Planetary Geologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory