November 20, 2012
Mars Curiosity Rover Prepares For Thanksgiving Celebration Festivities
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online
It may not be in the company of little Martians, but NASA's Curiosity is determined to celebrate Thanksgiving this year with, or without, the company of extra-terrestrials.
For its Thanksgiving festivities, the rover plans to use its Mast Camera (Mastcam) to examine possible routes and targets to the east. NASA said its priority is to choose a rock for the first use of the rover's hammering drill, which will collect samples of powder from rock interiors.
Curiosity drove for the first time last week after spending several weeks at the "Rocknest" location, obtaining soil samples of the Martian surface.
On Sunday, the rover touched a rock called "Rocknest 3" with the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS), and took two 10-minute readings of data about the chemical elements in the rock. It moved last Friday to get itself within arm's reach of the rock.
"We have done touches before, and we've done goes before, but this is our first 'touch-and-go' on the same day," Curiosity Mission Manager Michael Watkins of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, California, said in a prepared statement. "It is a good sign that the rover team is getting comfortable with more complex operational planning, which will serve us well in the weeks ahead."
Curiosity then stowed its arm and drove 83 feet eastward toward "Point Lake," where it will be siting during Thanksgiving break.
The rover is still holding some soil from the fifth and final scoop collected at Rocknest, and is carrying the sample so it can be available for analysis by instruments within the rover.
NASA reported observations of wind and natural radiation patterns on Mars taken by the rover last Friday.
During this report, NASA said that Curiosity witnessed what could be whirlwinds above it, but it was unable to capture a picture of the event to confirm.
"Dust in the atmosphere has a major role in shaping the climate on Mars," Manuel de la Torre Juarez of NASA's JPL said in the statement. "The dust lifted by dust devils and dust storms warms the atmosphere."
NASA analyzed data from more than 20 atmospheric events with at least one characteristic of a whirlwind with Curiosity's Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) instrument. Dominant wind directions identified by REMS surprised some researchers who expected slope effects to produce north-south winds.
The space agency released a 3D image of the area Curiosity drove to on its 100th Martian day (sol) November 16. The rover used its Navigation Camera after the drive to record the images, which were combined into a stereo, panoramic view.
Another image released by NASA shows the landscape after Curiosity's drive 83 feet eastward during the 102nd Martian day. This view is toward "Yellowknife Bay" in the "Glenelg" area of Gale Crater (see main image).