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Sols 4134-4135: Sun Blob Blues

This image was taken by Right Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 4132.
This image was taken by Right Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 4132.

Earth planning date: Friday, March 22, 2024

Sometimes it feels like we all make up the same brain and planning goes smooth as silk. Today I'm thankful it felt like that, because Friday plans have a higher potential to get rough. It really helps when the morning downlink brings down more data than expected and shows our drive completing successfully! The only thing getting us down was the “sun blob,” a 13 degree cone around the sun that ChemCam is not allowed to point within. If ChemCam is pointed at the sun while not in a safe focus setting, its optics or RMI detector could be damaged. The sun blob includes the sun’s entire daily path through the sky plus 13 degrees, in the event ChemCam gets stuck pointed somewhere and Earth is unable to respond in time. Unfortunately, the ChemCam RMI areas of interest these days are mostly all inside the sun blob, and it’s slowly moving southwards just like us! So while on Wednesday our rover was singing Back to the uGVr, today she’s singing the “Sun Blob Blues” by the Channel Surfers (not a real band). Some of the team even thinks the blob itself might be sentient and hunting us (not really).

The first sol of this plan includes a ChemCam RMI of the beautiful Fascination Turret uGVr (upper Gediz Vallis ridge) outcrop that isn’t in the sun blob, 5 laser shots and a Mastcam documentation image of a bedrock target in our workspace named “Petite Capucin,” and a 12-frame Mastcam stereo mosaic of some gnarled-looking bedrock in front of us named “Sentinel Dome.” We also have full arm backbones with three contact science targets named “Thompson Canyon,” “Cabin Lake,” and “Smoky Jack” for MAHLI and APXS.

The second sol of this plan includes some highly-desired Mastcam imaging in the early morning of Fascination Turret and the rest of the uGVr from this location, which we’re hoping will illuminate some of the self-shadows inherent in the outcrop faces. ChemCam will acquire another RMI of Fascination Turret outside the sun blob and shoot another workspace target named “Phlox.” Then, we drive onward! Hopefully on Monday we will be ~23 meters further south and continue our imaging spree of this gorgeous area.

Written by Natalie Moore, Mission Operations Specialist at Malin Space Science Systems