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Sols 4114-4115: Bingo! It’s Official – Curiosity’s 40th Successful Drill Hole on Mars!

ChemCam RMI of the Mineral King drill hole
This image of the "Mineral King" drill hole was taken by Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 4108.

Earth planning date: Friday, March 1, 2024

The "Mineral King" drill hole did not quite reach the target depth that we typically desire to ensure that we have enough sample in the drill stem to deliver to our internal CheMin and SAM instruments. However, based on the information we did have (see details in the Sol 4110 blog), we proceeded with delivery to CheMin, and got the good news yesterday that CheMin received enough sample to complete an X-ray diffraction analysis. We officially have our 40th successful drill hole! Based on the preliminary CheMin results, the SAM team are planning a power-hungry, Evolveded Gas Analysis (EGA) of the "Mineral King" sample. This will provide further information on the composition.

Despite the power restrictions, the geology and atmospheric science teams made good use of the remaining time and power available to plan a slew of observations in this 2-sol weekend plan. To complement the previous APXS and ChemCam analyses of the "Mineral King" target prior to drilling, and the CheMin and SAM analyses, ChemCam will fire its laser at the wall of the drill hole to look for chemical variations with depth. The resulting laser pits will be captured with a Mastcam image, which will also help us plan MAHLI and APXS deployments on the powdered sample surrounding the drill hole next week. ChemCam will also analyze the "Nameless Pyramid" target on the same block, another example of the dark rock that we drilled into. We are also acquiring additional Mastcam imaging to extend coverage around the "Mineral King" drill block.

We are not focusing all our activities in the vicinity of our drill hole though. ChemCam will also utilize its remote imaging capabilities to look at the layering in the "Texoli" butte and the chaotic structure within the nearby Gediz Vallis deposit. We have been imaging the Texoli butte from different vantage points along our traverse to better understand the nature of the layering and sedimentary structures that can help us interpret the geological history of this section of Mount Sharp. The Gediz Vallis deposit has also been of interest for some time now, and our current position, very close to a section of the ridge material, provides the perfect opportunity to try and understand the processes that formed this late-stage deposit.

A photometry experiment on the second sol will use Mastcam and Navcam images to view areas near the workspace. This is one of a number of such observations that are repeated at different times of day, with variable lighting conditions, while the rover is stationary here at the "Mineral King" drill site. The experiment helps us to gain a better understanding of the surface textures at small scales and their influence on the reflected sunlight.

Observations to monitor changes in atmospheric opacity and dust are also included. We are acquiring several Navcam observations (sky flats and line of sight observations, as well as dust devil, suprahorizon and zenith movies) and a Mastcam tau. The plan is not complete without the standard REMS, DAN and RAD activities.

We are looking forward to coming back next week, hopefully with the news that we had a successful SAM EGA analysis. Assuming success, we will empty the drill stem of any remaining sample, which then allows us to use the arm for contact science (MAHLI and APXS). I will be the APXS strategic planner next week, and I am eager to help plan the APXS observations of the powdered sample around the drill hole. These results will be used to further refine the CheMin and SAM determined mineralogy of "Mineral King."

Written by Lucy Thompson, Planetary Geologist at University of New Brunswick