23 August 2019
Today was the final opportunity to actively command Curiosity before the Sun comes between us and Mars. Most of the instruments are safely stored for the solar conjunction break, but intrepid Navcam was available for some last-minute science observations. Navcam will measure the amount of dust in the atmosphere, look for dust devils, and look for clouds in a series of images and movies on Sol 2506. After that, the remote sensing mast will turn its gaze down toward the workspace to guard against dust accumulation on the mast instruments.
While Curiosity will not receive commands from Earth during solar conjunction, she has already been loaded with a series of commands to keep her systematically gathering data for the next two weeks. REMS and RAD will acquire multiple measurements each sol, DAN will acquire one long passive measurement each sol, and Navcam and the front and rear Hazcams will each acquire one image per day. The mast’s downward-looking view includes the ‘Glen Etive’ drill hole, allowing Navcam to monitor any changes in the cuttings around the drill hole. DAN will also acquire active measurements twice during solar conjunction to exercise its neutron generator. The data gathered will be stored up for return once we regain reliable communications with Mars.
Just as solar conjunction is not time off for Curiosity, it is not time off for the science team! Without the responsibilities of commanding the rover, the team has more time to pore over the spectacular data Curiosity has gathered for us. It takes time to translate each image, mosaic, and spectrum into a better understanding of what happened in Gale crater, and conjunction affords us more of this time to think deeply and carefully. Ultimately, the time dedicated to science turns into papers, which are one of the many ways the science team communicates what it has learned with our colleagues and the wider public.
If you miss Curiosity while she is out of contact, enjoy your own tour through all our images here. We promise there is enough to see there to get you through two weeks!
Written by Michelle Minitti, Planetary Geologist at Framework