Curiosity out of vacation

    Almost all of April there was no connection with Mars, so the satellites and Mars rovers downloaded the program for a month and, having blessed, trusted themselves. There is no choice - once every two years this will be repeated until the repeater is placed in the heliocentric orbit, but it will not be soon.

    Curiosity barely recovered from damage to memory elements and survived a "brain transplant", so its creators were especially worried about it. The Opportunity veteran has experienced such “holidays” more than once, so for his team it has become almost a routine. At the same time, a few days before the end of the “vacation”, Opportunity caught an error and went into standby mode, and immediately after the connection was restored, a software update was started on Curiosity. But now both are in service and everything is in operation.

    Back in March, before the solar overlap, an important event took place in the scientific world: the 44th conference of the Moon and planets. Although the theme covered almost the entire solar system, the entire event was held under the sign of Curiosity and Mars. More than 60 scientific groups dedicated their reports at the conference to Curiosity results. Those who wish to plunge themselves into the advanced front of planetary science, I propose to look into the theses of the conference.

    At this event, scientists not only shared scientific materials obtained by rovers, but also revealed their future plans. Actually Curiosity is planned to be returned to the route that he had been scheduled before landing. But in light of the new data that he discovered contrary to an early scientific program, now his path requires a more convincing foundation.

    Let me remind you a bit. When Curiosity landed on Mars, it was assumed that he would rush to Mount Eolida (Sharpe), since smectites were discovered at its foot from the satellite - clays that indicate a favorable climate that could contribute to the life of organisms. True, approaching the landing, the rover deviated slightly from the intended route, so they found an intermediate target called Glenelg.

    In Glenelga, they did not expect to find clays or evidence of the habitability of Mars; geologists were interested in a curious site where three types of surfaces converged in one place: an ancient one pitted with craters; smooth cracked; and washed with a stream from the mountains. Curiosity began to study them in reverse order. At the end of autumn 2012, I thoroughly analyzedthe first handful of rock and came to the conclusion of its volcanic origin. Then, in the winter of 2013, he reached the lowland, called Yellowknifle Bay, which from the satellite looked like a cracked bottom of a dried lake. And, not surprisingly, this turned out to be the bottom of the lake. Moreover, on this day unexpectedly found clay was found.

    So, in just about 200 Martian days, Curiosity reached the practically most important goal of its expedition. True life is not found. No hints at all. The scientific team is still brave, justifies itself, they say, need to look elsewhere, and now chooses where to send the rover. And it is supposed to direct after the water.

    Let's get back to the conference materials.
    Although scientists from Princeton University offer to give upIt is believed that Mount Eolida was blown away by the wind , so it’s useless to look for traces of life in it. A University of California science team has a different opinion. Having carefully studied satellite images of Gale Crater and its environs, they determined that the area experienced at least three “water” stages in their life.

    ( blue dot - Curiosity )

    The first pond occupied almost the entire area of ​​the crater and was about 650 meters deep.
    The second was smaller - only 170, but left behind a wide dune field, about fifty kilometers south-west of the current position of Curiosity.
    The third body of water was very shallow, with a depth of about 20 meters, and it occupied exactly the same Yellowknifle Bay, where the rover is now located. The lake left a plot withhigh thermal inertia covered with large, but shallow cracks.

    It is not yet clear exactly whether it was three great floods, or whether there is a process of shallowing of one reservoir, which for a long time lingered three times at certain levels. The mountain that towered above these lakes arose at the time of the impact of the asteroid, when a crater arose, but the wind really made it much wider, piling mountains of dust and sand. There is certainly no trace of life there, but the layers can tell the details of the climatic history of Mars.

    The average level of 170 meters attracts the attention of the head of the Curiosity research team John Grotzinger. One of his lectures at the conference was devoted to interesting relief features on the slopes of Aeolis.

    With a lot of imagination and an excess of optimism, we can assume that NASA was going to excavate the ruins of the Martian city. But in reality, everything is more prosaic.

    Such structures are called by American geologists boxwork. On Mars, they are found as a centimeter scale, and multimeter. The reasons for their appearance may be different, but in fact boxwork is “cracks on the contrary”. In the case of Gale Crater, once the bottom surface of a drying lake cracked, and the cracks were filled with cementing rock. Subsequently, under the influence of erosion, the base collapsed and was transferred by the wind, and the crack filler turned out to be more resistant to external influences.

    Grotzinger believes that such obvious evidence of the activity of water on Mars must be studied, and this goal is outlined as final, in the main Curiosity program. What the rover will do further is not yet revealed. I think they themselves do not know yet. Much will depend on the results that he will collect on his way, and on what scientific resources he will have by that time.

    But the nearest goal that attracts geologists is known - Shaler.

    Curiosity has already passed this interesting outcrop. I assumed that he would be stuck with him for a month, not without reason the name was chosen in honor of the American paleontologist. But then the geologists were attracted by the bottom of Yellowknifle Bay, so they did not linger.

    But now they intend to understand in more detail in this multi-page geological book. The main question Curiosity will try to find the answer to is the reason for the appearance of layers. Did the wind bring them, or is it still water? Geologists have previously reported that the size of the grains of which these rocks are composed is too large for transportation by wind, i.e. water work was meant. Now they want to study in more detail and make a final verdict. Whether it will be drilled there is not yet reported, they will probably also decide on the spot.

    In the meantime, Curiosity peered into the old John Clein well.

    At the end of March, he shot her with a ChemCam spectrometer laser, points on the wall of the well from him.
    This was done to understand if there are any layers in the breed. But apart from the already familiar cracks filled with gypsum, it seems, I did not find anything. The analysis results are not yet available, but the layers are not visible in the pictures, and there are white veins everywhere and it has already been determined that this is gypsum.

    Then the rover moved 2.5 meters a little to the side. A new drill target was named Cumberland.

    At first she was traditionally shot with a laser, then she was treated with alpha-rays of the APXS spectrometer, and then a drill was thrust.

    No test wells were already made - they were driven all the way. ( gif animation of the process of 8 mb )
    On the same day, the sample was sieved and the next loaded into internal devices: SAM and CheMin.
    However, judging by the external signs, there should not be any differences compared to the previous analysis from the place of John Clein.

    I suppose that right after the analysis is completed, Curiosity will hit the road. Not only fans around the world, but also NASA itself, yearned for moving forward and new discoveries.

    PS In the meantime, Opportunity has completed the study of Matievich’s hill, found clay and now went on a two-kilometer voyage to a new goal - Solander Point Hill.

    For several days in a row, Opportunity has been doing several tens of meters per day, and only a kilometer separates it from the absolute record for mileage on cosmic bodies outside the Earth. Lunokhod-2, which has been holding the line of 37 km for forty years, will soon have to give up the first place.

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