Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Sol 288: Press release tomorrow (30.5.2013)

Radiation Assessment Detector on Earth.
The instrument can detect high energy particles
which reach the Martian surface from
various sources including the sun. (Commons)

NASA has announced a press release that will be held tomorrow to announce results pertaining to radiation studies being conducted on the surface with the rover's RAD instrument. From the release, the talk will include the following key speakers:

-- Donald M. Hassler, RAD principal investigator and program director, Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio
-- Cary Zeitlin, principal scientist, Southwest Research Institute
-- Eddie Semones, spaceflight radiation health officer, NASA's Johnson Space Center, Houston
-- Chris Moore, deputy director of advanced exploration systems, NASA Headquarters, Washington
As usual, you can listen in to the press conference tomorrow starting from 1830 GMT on JPL's ustream channel or from NASA audio.

Meanwhile on Mars, Curiosity has fed samples into the analysis instruments SAM and CheMin from the recently drilled rock dubbed Cumberland. We shouldn't expect anything new (though there may be yet another surprise of a discovery) because the rock is more or less similar to the previous drilling target. If anything, this one will help improve the previous measurements of the other rock, hence the similarity of targets is by design.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Mars Science Laboratory: Time Lapse - Sol 0 - Sol 281

I noticed this video on my twitter feed but completely forgot to talk about it here! And that's really bad because its so cool!

Using front hazard avoidance camera images, Karl Sanford made a wonderful time lapse video of Curiosity's entire journey in Gale crater since touching down in August last year. Its another example of how making data open allows ordinary citizens to engage with an incredible scientific missions and in the process, help to sensitise people about the science, exploration and inquiry. Brilliant!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Sol 280: Drilling Cumberland

Yestersol (sol 279) was drilling day and once again the rover's tool has got obtained another sample of Martian rock. Truly astonishing! MAHLI images were taken of the drill hole afterwards. Here is one below:
MAHLI view of the drill hole (NASA/JPL/MSSS)
A neat blinking image showing the before and after drilling scenes helps to give an idea of how much shaking is actually involved. Notice the changed positions of pebbles and gravel in the image below.
Sol 275 compared to sol 279 view (NASA/JPL/MSSS)
Judging from the image timestamps on the raw imagery site, I estimate the time to drill took no more than 30 minutes. Below is another gif animation of the entire day of activity for sol 279 as viewed by the right eye of the front hazard avoidance cameras. You'll notice the drill as a 3 pronged looking device with the 2 side prongs contacting the surface for stability during drilling. The prong in the middle is the drill head itself which also doubles as a core sampler for sampling the material collected by the drill threads. This sample will later on be given to the analytical instruments CheMin and SAM for further analysis.
A day on Mars with Curiosity.
Observant readers will notice that at some
point in the animation the rover
looks like it has been lifted slightly
by the way the frame shifts upwards.
This occurs due to the amount of downward force
applied by the robotic arm on the rock in order
to maintain stability during drilling. Thus the rover is lifted
slightly as a result.
 (NASA/JPL/animation by Abraham Samma)

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Sol 277: The Inspection of Cumberland

Another bump of not more than 1m and the rover is now bearing down on Cumberland.
Sol 275 view showing arm activity being conducted over the target
Cumberland (NASA/JPL)
The plan currently includes detailed surveys of the new target with the hand lens imager MAHLI to see if it is suitable for drilling. The MAHLI image shows nodules called concretions which are precipitates of minerals formed in watery conditions.
Sol 275 MAHLI view of the nodular surface of Cumberland in true colour (NASA/JPL/MSSS)
Sol 277's activities included atmospheric analyses performed by the SAM instrument as well as pre-conditioning the instrument for the anticipated reception of the new sample of drill material. The sample acquisition operation is expected to begin next week.
'Cumberland' as imaged by the Mastcam
on sol 275 in true colour (NASA/JPL/MSSS/mosaic by Abraham Samma)
It's now the evening of sol 277 as of this writing.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Sol 273: Facing Cumberland

Sol 272's (12 May) drive has positioned the rover just in front of its new drilling target dubbed Cumberland. The small bump covered 2.05m lasting 14 mins.
Sol 272 view front hazard camera shows the general  view
of the Cumberland workspace. John Klein is in the midground, left side. (NASA/JPL)
Before this drive was accomplished, a flurry of science ops were done including MAHLI views of the John Klein workspace, APXS activity and some laser shots of targets by the ChemCam instrument. All these arm and remote sensing operations had to be squeezed into a work span of just 1 day; from sol 270 to 271. Sol 272 was dedicated to driving and assessment of the drive by engineering cameras. There might be another drive to better position the rover in front of Cumberland. But for the time being, we are here!
Sol 270 MAHLI view of the drill hole at John Klein.
Notice the laser scorch marks made by ChemCam
along the side of the hole facing the camera plus
the white sliver of gypsum veins (NASA/JPL/MSSS)

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Sights on Cumberland

As you know, the rover Curiosity has exited the period of solar conjunction which was characterised by low science returns. As of now the rover has finished booting into its new software which includes better auto navigational capabilities which allow the rover to navigate most routes pretty much on its own without intervention from Earth (see the video update at the end of this blog post).

The new target for drilling has been chosen. Dubbed 'Cumberland', the target features numerous features typical of the wet ancient environment that has been the subject of much of the mission's time this past few months. Among the features you may notice is little round concretions that have resisted erosion and stick out of the rock like weird raisins. These are actually concretions; minerals that may have precipitated out of liquid water in the remote Martian past. You can also see thin white cracks. These are gypsum veins which also imply a watery history at least at Curiosity's location.
A white balanced image taken on sol 192 showing
Cumberland. The image was taken with the 100mm
right mastcam eye. Note the 10cm scale at the bottom
of the image. (NASA/JPL/MSSS)
The new target lies west of the rover's current location. A small 'bump' is all it will take to reach as it is fairly close by.
Map showing the location of John Klein and Cumberland. North is up
(NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)
At Cumberland, it'll be all about drilling! But some of you may note; why is the rover targeting a rock that, by all accounts, looks exactly the same as the previous one i.e. John Klein. The recent news report on the mission home site explains:
This second drilling is intended to confirm results from the first drilling, which indicated the chemistry of the first powdered sample from John Klein was much less oxidizing than that of a soil sample the rover scooped up before it began drilling.
The first drill sample may have had some contaminants from all the previous scoopings of Martian soil. Therefore it only seems proper to take yet another sample of the same rocktype from a different locality and compare the findings with the hope that whatever contaminants there are are now likely from a similar rocktype. The results will be more refined and trustworthy.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Sol 262: Conjunction over!

Conjunction is over! Communications have been re-established and after such a long hiatus, I think we're in need of a recap.

The rover Curiosity is currently parked besides an outcrop dubbed John Klein, the site of the mission's first drilling. Plenty of science was accomplished along with some samplings taken for analysis in the SAM and CheMin instruments from the drill hole.

Now what is the rover going to do? The mission team announced during the beginning of conjunction that they will decide on a new drilling target over the period of conjunction. But right now science ops are taking a back sit so that mission engineers can upload new flight software for the rover according to the USGS's mission update. This could take about a week to verify (brain transplants are always a tricky thing to do whether you're dealing with a human or a machine!). Let me leave you with this panorama taken a day after operations resumed on sol 261 (that was May day) by the rover's navigation cameras.
Navigation panorama taken on sol 262 (NASA.JPL/panorama by Abraham Samma)