Monday, October 29, 2012

Reminder about Tuesday's telecon

Just reminding myself and anyone else that there will be a teleconference for an update on Curiosity's status. You can listen in on Tuesday (10/30/2012) via ustream or NASA's audio feed. The conference will start at 1830 hrs GMT.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

JPL Curiosity video update: Zapping Stonehenge

I always enjoy the Jet Propulsion Lab's video presentations. This one was posted on Youtube just yesterday and provides a good update on what the ChemCam instrument has been doing this past few days including zapping an unusual feature dubbed 'Stonehenge' (because it looks similar to the ancient monument in England) with its laser. But why is it like that? Play the video to find out!

Also there will be yet another telecon on Tuesday (October 30) next week at 1830 hrs GMT.

UPDATE: I found the image taken by Curiosity's scientific camera (left eye Mastcam) of the interesting feature mentioned above. It was taken on sol 72 or about 9 days ago as of this writing:

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Zapping away at Rocknest

I noticed subframe colour images coming down from the 100mm Mastcam so I decided to take a break from reading internal medicine and stitching them up. The results:
True colour mosaic of 'Rocknest' sol 76 (NASA/JPL/MSSS/mosaic by me)
What we're seeing here is the cluster of volcanic rocks (most likely vesicular basalt because it looks 'bubbly' attesting to the gases it once held when it was still molten rock) aptly named 'Rocknest'. Notice the drifts of sand around them. They act as a sort of wind breaker and any dust/light aeolian material is dropped off around them. The drift that Curiosity is investigating right now stems from these rocks influencing their environment.

The ChemCam instrument is also being used to investigate these rocks. We can see the results of yesterday's 'shootings' in the image returned below:
The small bullseye in the middle is in the order of microns in diameter (NASA/JPL/LANL)

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Secrets of the dirt

It's now sol 77 at Curiosity's site and I see there has been another dig as well as another sample for the observation tray processed by CHIMRA! This past week has been all about dirt although Curiosity does deal with other measurements while doing all these things that we talk about here on the blog; monitoring the environment, remote sensing et cetera. All that demands wise scheduling to avoid becoming power deficient (while Curiosity uses nuclear power, it's not a direct supply as the battery has to be topped up before the rover has access to the power) and to edit out science activities (a delicate matter for the surface operations manager)!
Kind of reminds you of a kid playing with a toy shovel!
Sol 74 navigation image (NASA/JPL)
Anyway, what interested me before this fourth dig took place were the fascinating images of the observation tray holding the sample from the third dig taken by MAHLI.
MAHLI view of the tray, sol 73 (NASA/JPL/MSSS)
Here is another image of the tray viewed up close by MAHLI.
Observation tray by MAHLI (NASA/JPL/MSSS)
You can see here that there are at least 3 kinds of particles in the image above. The biggest are the white ones and then there are the slightly smaller, grey or black coloured ones and finally the ubiquitous fine Martian dust which prefers to stick in clumps rather than hang around alone. This means it is cohesive. Notice also how asymmetric the sample in terms of the way the grains are arranged in relation to all other grains in addition to the size with finer grains located a little farther away than the rest of the rest of the (presumably heavier) grains. It could indicate the wind direction at the time

There was another image that was part of shown the recent mission site report that showed the results of ChemCam's lazing of the sandy material on the drift with its powerful laser on sol 74.
ChemCam's zaps the target (NASA/JPL/LANL)
Reading Ken Herkenhoff's incredible insider blog, we get the reason why they did this particular drift:
In addition to the long-planned arm activities (4th scoop of soil), we added MAHLI images of the far side of the ripple we are scooping, Mastcam mosaics, and ChemCam LIBS observations of a nearby patch of soil during the day and just before dawn. The ChemCam observations are intended to see whether water frost forms on the surface during the night, by comparing the amount of hydrogen seen in the LIBS spectra when the soil is warm and cold.
Which would also help to explain why they were taking these images of drifts when the sun was low in the sky.
Sol 74 navigation image (NASA/JPL)
The dirt certainly holds many secrets. I don't about rest of you but pedology (the study of soils) rocks! Especially if it's out of this world!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

CheMin has received sample!

Yet another milestone for this mission; the speakers at today's telecon announced that they have received confirmation that the chemistry and mineralogy instrument has received a portion of the third sample. They haven't given SAM any yet because 'it isn't ready yet' so they'll do all of this again when they're ready.

Concerning the sparkling bits I talked about recently, apart from the hunch that these particles are probably native to Mars and therefore not a threat to Curiosity's analysis (which is why they the second dig took a little longer while they mulled over the matter) they haven't much more about what they are. They gave probable reasons for their anomalous appearance including the mineralogical ones (cleavage, refracting light and all other sorts of geological grammar).

They gave a good talk about what they see in the sample that's already on the tray. They noted that there are 2 kinds of particles based on size. The coarser type are darker compared to the finer ones which are so light that they allow most of the tray's reflected light to pass through unimpeded, giving them a much lighter appearance compared to when they were still in the drift.
Mastcam image of the sample on the tray (NASA/JPL/MSSS)
They mentioned importantly that this all means that we have 3 size-classes of particles here, large particles (in the range of millimetres) which sort of armour the drifts of finer material, preventing them from moving with the wind as they are simply too heavy for Mars' low density air to move. Below this armour there is the finer particles that are (I think) the coarse, dark-coloured particles that we see on the tray. Anything finer is probably dust. All finer components are at or below 150 micron level and they are light enough to be lifted up by winds. Enough to evenly distribute them across the planet. So by analyzing them, we can learn a lot about global Martian dust and drift material because these samples are representative of the whole of Mars rather than local (which would include things that can't be moved very far like the coarse armour material).
Sol 67 MAHLI image of the second dig. Notice the top, coarser armour layer and the finer material below
Chemical analyses of Martian materials isn't all that special but CheMin is important because it can actually analyse the mineralogical makeup of samples which is unprecedented in Mars exploration!

It's now 6: 30am on sol 72 of Curiosity's mission at Gale crater. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

First use of the observation tray

Sol 69 images show a successful dig at a third site at the 'Rocknest' drift.
Sol 69 navigation images now show 3 trenches (NASA/JPL)
There aren't as many images coming down (apart from the less memory-hungry thumbnail images sent as previews) because the rover's main high data-rate relay, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has suffered a glitch and has gone into safe-mode where only the most basic of spacecraft functions are running. So that means the rover has to make use of the older orbiter, Mars Odyssey, for data relay. And as you can imagine it's not all that fast.

Looking at the images of the scooped up sample, you can see they have managed to grab a bit of the sparkling stuff that has been puzzling the team for some time (previously it was a question of whether it was native to Mars or a piece of rover hardware) and will probably analyse it with SAM and CheMin.
Mastcam image from Sol 69 (NASA/JPL/MSSS)
Images from sol 70 show that they are actually making use of the rover's observation tray which can receive material processed by CHIMRA for detailed analysis by the APXS and MAHLI instruments on the rover's arm. Again these are only sub-frame images due to communication constraints.
Observation tray with sample, sol 70
navigation image. The b/w squares
are for probably for length calibration
during imaging.

We may hear more about at tomorrow's teleconference. It's now 7:39am, sol 71 at Curiosity's site on Mars. Stay tuned!

Teleconference for Oct 18

There will be a telecon tomorrow at 1900 hrs GMT. There are indications that this one will be an update on methane (natural gas) gas detection by the rover which is actually one of its objectives. Methane is produced by two things that we know of on Earth at least; volcanic activity and life. The gas has been monitored in the Martian atmosphere for the past few years by orbiters but Curiosity will be the first to monitor the gas from the surface. What does the gas indicate? Maybe life, maybe still rumbling volcanoes on what is supposed to be a practically geologically dead planet. The rover team hopes to contribute data on the question. We'll see it all tomorrow! You can listen in via NASA's audio feed.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to find a place to quietly contemplate the discovery of an earth-sized mass planet that has just been discovered orbiting Alpha-Centauri B, one of the nearest star systems to our solar system (only 4.5 light years away). We live in exciting times! Stay curious.

[Read the press release and paper about this EXTRAORDINARY discovery on nature's site]

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Sparkling bits in the dirt

Curiosity has finished its second scoop and dump procedure and should have completed the third and final scoop and dump by now. After that we should see some interesting science being done soon with the delivery of the mission's first sample to CheMin and SAM. But there is interesting news about something in the soil that's being done. From yesterday's press bulletin on the mission's website:
The rover's second scoopful, collected on Sol 66 (Oct. 12), was intentionally discarded on Sol 67 due to concern about particles of bright material seen in the hole dug by the scooping. Other small pieces of bright material in the Rocknest area have been assessed as debris from the spacecraft. The science team did not want to put spacecraft material into the rover's sample-processing mechanisms. Confidence for going ahead with the third scooping was based on new assessment that other bright particles in the area are native Martian material. One factor in that consideration is seeing some bright particles embedded in clods of Martian soil. Further investigations of the bright particles are planned, including some imaging in the Sol 69 plan.
These white sparkly things didn't really stand out as a piece of spacecraft material would but you can definitely see them even without MAHLI.
Sol 67 MastCam shot. The most prominent white particle is highlighted (NASA/JPL/MSSS)
 Here is MAHLI's image of the largest white particle.
Sol 67 MAHLI shot; the particle is located near the lower left corner (NASA/JPL/MSSS)
I haven't a clue what it is and that my friends is the beauty of scientific inquiry; ignorance combined with the will to learn. And we're here to learn about Mars' natural history! Stay tuned.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Scooping twice and Jake's science results

I'll begin this post by summarising the past week of activities done by Curiosity before delving into the tasty science tidbits from last Thursday's press conference.

As you may (or may not) know, Curiosity is currently engaged in a test campaign of its scoop which was halted for a few sols out of because a certain shiny object that sits in front of the rover's current position besides the sand drift at 'Rocknest'. The material, according to the rover team, may have originated from when the rover descended from the starry heavens onto the Martian surface back in August. A lot of stuff sort of fell off the descent stages, parachute, et cetera. And the rover just happened to chance upon one of these 'flakes'. So no worries there!
MAHLI true colour image of the object, sol 65
Execution of the first scooping and sieving plan went smoothly and images that came down on sol 64 showed the results. CHIMRA did a scoop and sieving process, separating material that's less than 150 microns in diameter and depositing it into a portioning chamber which funnels them into a portioning tube that rattles the material into the awaiting inlets of SAM and CheMin. The speakers on Thursday compared it to a mother bird feeding its hungry brood. During sieving and portioning they have to keep moving the arm turret around to prevent the danger of the fine-grained material from compacting into a solid mass that may refuse to budge out of the portioning chamber. For this round they didn't feed the fine-grained material into the inlets (dumping it instead, the amount being equivalent to the size of half a baby aspirin) as this is still a cleaning exercise where any Terran material that's still lingering in CHIMRA's intricate labyrinth of chambers and passages is flushed out by the Martian material. After all, we are here to study Mars not Earth. The coarser material remained in the scoop and was subsequently
dumped. Subsequent imaging of the tool's interior, which can be opened, showed it to be nice and dirty!
Step 1: Scoop, sol 61 (NASA/JPL/MSSS)
Step 2: Sieve and inspect, sol 64 (NASA/JPL/MSSS)
Step 3: Portion, dump and inspect, sol 64; you can see some material left
in the portion delivery tube in the inset. Note the large, circular grey panel
slides to expose tubes of different sizes for delivery (NASA/JPL/MSSS) 
Step 4: Dump the reject, sol 65 (NASA/JPL/MSSS)
The second scoop activity happened on sol 66 after a thorough imaging of the whole CHIMRA set up was done the previous sol.
Sol 66 navigation camera image showing the two scooping sites; the lower one
is new. (NASA/JPL)
It presumably went well at least as far as the scooping is concerned as the images next day showed the excess material that has been dumped by the side of the new trench. A third rinse will commence soon before the first sample of dirt is dropped into SAM and CheMin for analysis.

Meanwhile there was a talk given in Thursday's telecon about the mission's scientific results regarding the rock dubbed Jake Matijevic that was checked out about 2 weeks ago by the rover's many instruments. This one was about data from Curiosity's ChemCam and APXS instruments. Both measure chemical compositions and both had interesting stories to tell. It was a full blown petrology (study of rocks) class! But being a doctor, I am supposed to brave the complex so a bit of research was in order at the time.

ChemCam, if you remeber, shots laser at targets to create hot plasma which is measured by an imaging system to report its spectra i.e. composition based on wavelengths of light emitted. ChemCam's laser is well focused, capable of 30 shots on a spot at the level of tens of microns across. 14 spots were measured with the first 5 shots being discarded as they are spectra of the dust covering the rock which isn't what they want. This is done to allow averaging of the readings as 1 spot will only show readings of a few crystals in the rock's matrix of many crystals of different compositions. APXS doesn't need to do that (it took only 2 readings of Jake each lasting about 1hr all in the night) as its aperture is big enough (penny-sized) to average out the target it examines.

Both instruments found that Jake is enriched in elements called 'alkaline metals', things like sodium, potassium and calcium as well as in elements like aluminium, zinc and bromine (bromine, chlorine and sulphur were all detected, signifying dust on the target, Curiosity's APXS target, a piece of basalt, lacks all of these when measured clean). So all these mean what? Jake is definitely an igneous rock as suspected originally but its composition reflects a rock type that hasn't been seen on Mars but is abundant on Earth. The minerals suspected are feldspar (potassium, calcium and sodium rich silicate) and ilmenite (iron and titanium oxide) and they occur in rocks referred to as 'alkalic' rocks. These rocks are thought to be derived on Earth from cooled magma that was derived from the partial melting of rocks in the mantle. The cooling magma (through a complex and poorly known process) concentrates alkaline elements in these rocks which may also have rare alkaline earth elements like lithium which we need for our batteries (the word rare indicates that its quite rare to find rich deposits of these elements for mining). NASA's press release mentions that the magma is usually water-rich on Earth. But it may be unrealistic to extrapolate this Earthly process to Mars.

So that's it folks. Hope I didn't send you to sleep with that one! It is now currently sol 68, 4am in the morning at Curiosity's site. Stay tuned! If you would like to read more on 'alkalic' rocks and their importance on Earth (they are VERY important to us) go here.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Teleconference on Oct 11

There will be a teleconference for an update on Curiosity's status. You can listen in tomorrow (10/4/2012) via ustream or NASA's audio feed. The conference will start at 1800 hrs GMT. I guess the topic will be about the sampling's progress and how the bright thing from yesterday (which has been assumed by the team to be a piece of plastic material although that doesn't lessen the need for caution) will affect or has affected the plans.

Meanwhile the new semester has begun for me at the university and I'm having fun with pharmacology and surgery! But that also means I'll have to cut down blogging about Curiosity to something more manageable like once a week.

But as long as Curiosity is still roving strong, I'll always be here for a (at least weekly) report.

In the meantime have a look at this gorgeous mosaic made from Curiosity's images over at the planetary society blog. You won't be disappointed!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Bright object seen after vibrating CHIMRA UPDATED

Images of the successful scooping move are coming in and already there is an issue of a worrying sort; there is a bright object sitting next to the rover in front of it and it may be connected to CHIMRA when it was being vibrated.
Down-sized colour image showing CHIMRA's scoop
and the area where the bright object is (see the cropped
up view below) (NASA/JPL/MSSS/annotation by me)

What is this? (NASA/JPL/MSSS)
Quoting the mission site's recent update:
Curiosity's first scooping activity appeared to go well on Oct. 7. Subsequently, the rover team decided to refrain from using the rover's robotic arm on Oct. 8 due to the detection of a bright object on the ground that might be a piece from the rover. Instead of arm activities during the 62nd Martian day, or sol, of the mission, Curiosity is acquiring additional imaging of the object to aid the team in identifying the object and assessing possible impact, if any, to sampling activities.
So we really haven't a clue what on Mars this thing is. Hopefully the girl isn't in any danger of shaking herself to bits! Better images of the object will definitely help to see what it is.

UPDATE: ChemCam, which is an instrument used to laze materials at a distance and take close-up views of the resulting bright vapor's light with its built-in imager/spectrometer has taken great shots of the object:
The object is a shard-like thing near the centre lower left (NASA/JPL/LANL)
I really can't tell what kind of material it is from this image. But it's certainly real enough to have the team worried.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Curiosity's First Scoopful of Martian dirt

Ladies and gentleman, we have our first, awesome video of the scooped up Martian soil being shaken up by Curiosity's monster 8 newton vibs at 80Hz. These frames were supposed to be available on the raw image page but I guess the team wanted to be the first to show the fantastic results of the scoop exercise.

In the video above you can see the powdery material seemingly boiling over and more importantly we can't see any sizeable pebbles in the sample that can potentially harm the instruments. Go CHIMRA!
Where CHIMRA scooped, sol 61. (NASA/JPL)

Saturday, October 6, 2012

MSL REMS Science Reports - SPACEFLIGHT101

Spaceflight 101 has an excellent article that comments on the data from the REMS instrument from sol 21 up to sol 56. Its quite an interesting read. Please check it out by following the link below:
MSL REMS Science Reports - SPACEFLIGHT101

The paragraph on ultraviolet radiation is interesting as that's one of the things that I haven't been following up closely. To quote the report:
REMS has also been taking UV-Radiation Data, measuring different properties of the UV-Environment on the Martian Surface with respect to atmospheric dust and other atmospheric properties that are also determined with REMS. As the season progresses, the sun is rising higher at noon each Sol which has been shown by the UV Sensor. 
Initial images of the UVS Assembly on the Rover deck taken by Curiosity’s NavCams and MastCams have shown that there was not a significant amount of dust on the UVS. With UVS being off to a good start, data taken during the first Sols on Mars is currently being analyzed. The maximal irradiance values provided by UVS can be used to estimate the amount of atmospheric dust that is present at Gale Crater. MSL data has shown similar values to those acquired by the Mars Exploration Rovers during similar seasonal periods.
 The note on the amount of dust on the instrument is good because investigators don't need to perform any analytical gymnastics to rid the data of unwanted signals.

Also checkout the air pressure chart to see how much the pressure varies everyday, up to 15% of total atmospheric pressure. If that were to happen on Earth our ears would be popping everyday! That would be uncomfortable. Not to mention some of us would be breathless half of the day. The explanation is simple, Mars' atmosphere gets heated during the day, increasing the pressure and cools at night, lowering the pressure. Of course there are also long term variations due seasons and local weather (although Martian weather looks monotonous, it has its moments weatherwise).

Friday, October 5, 2012

The scoop of a lifetime

Exciting times ahead! Curiosity is hunkering down beside the sand ripple at ‘Rocknest’ for some scooping action with its CHIMRA (pronounced ‘chimera’). The aim is mainly to remove an oily film that has built up on the inner surface of the scoop during the rover’s trip from the clean rooms of Earth to the surface of Mars. The speakers today at the teleconference described it as a mouthwash kind of procedure.
Rocknest (NASA/JPL/MSSS)

Before describing the planned procedure I think now is the time to write that summary about CHIMRA that I promised so long ago now. Necessity is the mother of invention so I'll start with the single most important purpose that this (really complicated piece of) hardware serves; two instruments, the sample analysis at Mars (SAM) and the chemistry and mineralogy (CheMin) instruments are designed to take samples of Mars in for detailed, lab quality analysis. But the samples must be very fine, so fine as to easily slip through the micrometre sized sieves that guard the inlets into the instruments. CHIMRA is the one to process the sample for just that purpose.

CHIMRA is quite an instrument (one reporter at the teleconference confessed his confusion over the darn thing, I felt his pain)! Fortunately the speakers went through it with quite informative graphics.
Cutaway model of CHIMRA. The purple line shows the route samples will take. (NASA/JPL)
Basically CHIMRA consists of two parts, a motorized part with a scoop measuring 7 cm long and 4.5cm wide (coloured red in the model above) to dig in 3.5cm deep to collect soil samples and a chambered part (coloured yellow above) with chambers and passages which help to sort, sieve and portion out the samples (including core samples from the drill which won't be in use until Glenelg) for the SAM and CheMin instruments. To help the samples move along inside the CHIMRA passages and scoop, the whole thing has a vibrating mechanism that can shake the entire thing with a force of up to 8 Gs or approximately 8 kgs of force at a frequency of 70 to 85 Hz which the speakers compared to the drone you feel when your car’s engine is running neutral I presume.

That’s a whole lot of shaking and the speakers were the first to admit that they don't usually shake their hardware that much but there is a perfect reason for that. It all has to do with the last surface mission at Mars, Phoenix. This was a lander that went to the northern polar regions of Mars to sample water ice which was just underneath it. It also had a scoop but with no vibrator. So when the time came to drop the pay dirt into one of its science experiments there was no way to control the amount of material that dropped through. Sort of like the way you lightly tap your teaspoon to portion out the sugar into your morning coffee, they couldn't do that with Phoenix so they ended up flooding the instrument’s outsides with useless dirt and despite the instruments’ (weaker) vibrators, they were only lucky to get dirt in for analysis. So thanks to the lessons from Phoenix, Curiosity won’t have to suffer such setbacks thanks to its bone-shaking vibrators!
Phoenix's scoop pouring dirt in 2008 (NASA/JPL/UA)
The plan for scooping is set to commence on sol 61 which is this coming weekend. Right now as of this writing MAHLI has captured some good images of the ripple’s materials. I'll talk about that in another post when the scooping commences.
MAHLI image of scuffed ripple. Notice the fine, powdery interior and coarser ripple surface (NASA/JPL/MSSS)
 Scooping and pouring is the name of the game for the coming sols with 3 procedures in total planned. Remember the mouthwash analogy, in this case they will pour the dirt right back onto the ground after each scoop. Tests done last year on the ground have shown this to be the best way of cleaning out the grime still inside CHIMRA which might screw around with SAM and CheMin’s readings. Then they will deposit some samples into these experiments. According to NASA’s press release:
 Curiosity will scoop and shake a third measure of soil and place it in an observation tray for inspection by cameras mounted on the rover's mast. A portion of the third sample will be delivered to the mineral-identifying chemistry and mineralogy (CheMin) instrument inside the rover. From a fourth scoopful, samples will be delivered to both CheMin and to the sample analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument, which identifies chemical ingredients
What will Curiosity find out at Rocknest? The best answer is ‘don’t know’ but this isn’t the first time a rover has examined such a feature on Mars. The now silent rover Spirit examined a similar looking dune back in its heydays in 2004 called ‘Serpent’.
Spirit's colour view of scuffed 'Serpent'
dune (NASA/JPL/U. Cornell)
You can see that it’s similar, though it might very well be different in terms of chemical makeup, to the ripple at Rocknest.

As for the course to Glenelg, the rover is only a hundred metres away now. Once she reaches there the plan will be to scout out a place to use the percussive drill for the first time in Mars exploration! Go Curiosity!

There is a neat video if you'd like to see a demo of CHIMRA’s scoop tested out on Earth last year! Do check it out here.

The progress so far. The green line shows the planned route for the future after Rocknest (NASA/JPL/UA)

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Teleconference Tomorrow

There will be a teleconference for an update on Curiosity's status. You can listen in tomorrow (10/4/2012) via ustream or NASA's audio feed. The conference will start at 1800 hrs GMT. I will write something about the conference though I'm not expecting anything new in particular as well as summarise my impressions on the rover's activities since Bathurst Inlet.

P.S. I couldn't help but add this to the conference memo. Here is an image from Curiosity's navigation camera showing the arm stretched upwards poised over the wind drift (now dubbed 'Rocknest') I talked about being a possible candidate for Curiosity's CHIMRA instrument for a scooping procedure. The scuff made by the front wheel I think is a preliminary testing of the drift's consistency. It appears to be powdery Martian soil, nothing too hard for the scoop to handle.
Checking out Rocknest (NASA/JPL)

New Project, new (personal) mission

Dear readers,

This blog has, I think, been a tremendously success in helping make people aware of this wonderful Mars mission that is taking place during our lifetimes. This has spurred me into starting an all out project in the field of nurturing public learning in the sciences and arts and all the 'ologies' you can think of.

The stepping stone for this project will be a new blog that has just been opened by me for the first time today as of this posting where I can hammer out the project's details while enjoying writing on a blog! If you would like to follow this fledgling blog/project of mine click here or click the 'igne project' in the overhead bar to visit the site for more information.

Once again, thanks for all your readership and do keep coming back for more!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Approaching Glenelg

Curiosity is fast approaching Glenelg and should make landfall within the next few days thanks to the boost in mileage from the sol 49 drive which produced 42m of covered distance, the rover’s longest single drive yet. Subsequent drives till sol 52 put the rover’s total mileage at the 0.45km mark.

The rover, given its abilities and advanced designs, can do better than 42m. But engineers are still assessing the rover’s progress but this recent drive shows their increasing confidence in the rover’s mobility system. The rover is designed to go 20 km during its prime mission which should last 1 Martian year; equivalent to roughly 2 Earth years.
Sol 52 navigation view shows a change in scenery with lots of layers as we approach Glenelg in the distance (centre) (NASA/JPL/mosaic by me)
The for the past few days beginning sol 50 was to examine for areas near the rover’s current position that can allow the rover to test out its CHIMRA tool which is located at the end of its arm and will be used to process soil and core samples by crushing and sorting out the grains before depositing them in to any other experiment package. Nearby drifts like this one the rover parked adjacent on sol 55 to might make good targets:
Sol 55 navigation camera view (NASA/JPL)
One of the main reasons for this exercise is to clean up the instrument's insides which may or mayn't still contain microbes/materials from Earth which will affect the samples. Passing Martian dirt into CHIMRA serves as a sort of 'high fibre diet'. Yep, even Curiosity needs fibre!
CHIMRA's scoop in colour on sol 51 (NASA/JPL/MSSS)
The rover examined a nearby rock on sol 54 with its Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) and the Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS).
Sol 54 arm work on Bathurst Inlet (NASA.JPL)
 The rock (dubbed 'Bathurst Inlet') in question appears (let me just say now that when it comes to casual rock identification it is always good to take it with a whole bag salt) to be basalt in nature, certainly not like the recent conglomerates that hit the world’s headlines recently. MAHLI images show a shiny, black rock with too-fine-to-see-with-naked-eye crystals coated with the ubiquitous red dust:
If you visit the raw images page on the JPL site (the link is in the overhead bar) you will notice that MAHLI produces grey images like this one here:
Depth map or Z-map (NASA/JPL/MSSS)
These are depth maps generated by Curiosity’s computers from MAHLI constantly adjusting its focusable elements to see target better. These give information on the distances of point in the scene from the
camera/viewer. So that means we can toy around with these to produce 3-dimensional models of MAHLI’s targets! A number of programs exist that you can download and use for free on the web. I used ImageJ, a special tool that’s open and used by radiologists especially to manipulate digital MRI images. The depth map shown above belongs to the image below:
Sol 54 MAHLI image (NASA/JPL/MSSS)
So by loading the map on to a platform that can interpret the different shades of grey in it as distances and using the colour image as a texture for the model, we get the following product:

Neat! A lot of things that didn't look obvious in 2d become obvious with 3d. For those of you who would like to give it a try, you can download ImageJ, a java based program which can also be used to make animations like the one posted above here. All documentations and how-to stuff are available here.

Before I sign out, let me draw your attention dear reader to the links available in the sidebar below my twitter portal. These are incredibly informative sites and blogs all about Curiosity and then some and if you haven't seen any of them before and would like to experience more with this mission of the decade, I encourage you to follow them up. Be part of the adventure! The list will grow with time. Don't forget the ones in the overhead bar above!