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MAHLI at Rocknest: Science and Science-Enabling Activities

Monday, December 2, 2013

From Martian Sols 57-100, the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover conducted a series of first-time engineering and science activities at a small aeolian deposit, the Rocknest sand shadow. Curiosity acquired its first solid sample, prepared its sample handling and processing tools for the delivery of clean sample to Curiosity's geochemical suite (Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) and Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin)), and thoroughly studied the interior structure and grain-scale characteristics of the sand shadow.  The Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) played a key role in investigating the sand shadow materials at the hand lens scale, but its focus capability, in combination with its camera head position on the turret at the end of the robotic arm, enabled MAHLI to support engineering activities as well.  MAHLI activities focused on engineering support included confirming that sand shadow materials were appropriate for acquisition and processing by rover hardware, range finding for accurate scoop placement, and imaging of sample inlets pre- and post-delivery. MAHLI observations focused on science confirm that the Rocknest sand shadow is a member of a family of bimodal aeolian accumulations with coarse-grained (~1 mm) exteriors and finer-grained (<150 um) interiors. The similarity of the Rocknest sand shadow to bimodal aeolian deposits seen at the landing sites of the Mars Exploration Rovers suggests that bimodal aeolian transport is common on Mars. 

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