7 November 2018
Today was a good day on Mars. The science and engineering teams are making preparations to drill a patch of grey bedrock named ‘Highfield’, which will be our latest attempt to characterize this unique rock unit on Vera Rubin Ridge. Our last attempt to drill into this geologic member of the VRR (nearly 50 sols ago!) was unsuccessful at the drill target ‘Inverness.’ This target proved to be extremely resistant and hard, making it difficult for the drill to penetrate deep into the surface and accumulate sample material. So, the science team engaged in quite a bit of discussion about whether the Highfield target is expected to be as hard as or softer than the Inverness target. The team decided that it was worth trying to drill at this location and that the rock has the potential to be softer and more ‘drillable’ than the Inverness target given the data currently in hand. For example, we don’t see any fluting of the rock surface as a result of wind erosion, which may indicate that the entire rock erodes relatively quickly. In addition, we see scratches in the rock surface left behind by the rover’s Dust Removal Tool (DRT) and other pre-drilling activities, suggesting that the rock is relatively soft.
Today I served as Geology/Mineralogy Science Theme Lead, which meant that I led the discussions between surface scientists and helped to plan the overall approach towards characterizing this region. We were all excited to see the results of yesterday’s analyses and surface preparations, and to make the decision to go ahead and try drilling at this location. We’ll see if Mars decides to cooperate during tomorrow’s planning!
Written by Mark Salvatore, Planetary Geologist at University of Michigan