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November 6, 2023

Scientists love to share the adventure of exploring Mars with the public, revealing their research and providing close-up views of the Martian terrain. Dr. Lauren Edgar’s blog below not only details scientific planning activities for sols 3998–4000, work done as part of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory rover mission, but also commemorates a decade on the Martian landscape.

Earth planning date: Friday, November 3, 2023.

Today we reached an exciting milestone on Mars, with the planning of our 4000th sol of exploration with the Curiosity rover (covering almost 11 years and 3 months)! In addition to the milestone, Curiosity has had a very busy and productive week on Mars as we wrap up the drill campaign at Sequoia and prepare for solar conjunction next week. During solar conjunction, Mars will be on the opposite side of the Sun from the Earth, meaning that after Monday we won’t be able to communicate with the rover for the next few weeks.

I was on shift as LTP today, and at first I thought our 3-sol plan might be relatively light because we’re starting to limit the use of different instruments to ensure everything is in a safe state for conjunction. However, we had a lot of power available for science activities in this plan, so the team planned a jam-packed weekend of observations, including nearly 6 hours of remote sensing!

On the first sol Curiosity will acquire a ChemCam LIBS observation on a target named “Ionian Basin” and a ChemCam passive observation on “Inconsolable Range” to investigate the chemical diversity of rocks near the drill hole. Mastcam will also take a large mosaic to provide additional context and to document the layering and diagenetic features in the area. The plan also includes multiple Mastcam change detection activities to monitor the movement of fines near the drill hole and in the surrounding sand. The ENV theme group planned several Navcam activities to search for dust devils and monitor dust in the atmosphere.

On the second sol Curiosity will acquire another ChemCam LIBS observation on a target named “Sphinx Crest” to assess the chemistry of a dark block among the lighter toned bedrock. Two long distance ChemCam RMI mosaics are planned to assess a dark resistant bed in the Kukenan butte, and to look back in the direction of Peace Vallis to assess the distant stratigraphy and geomorphology.

The third sol includes a Navcam cloud altitude observation, Navcam zenith movie to monitor clouds, and Mastcam tau to assess atmospheric opacity. Throughout the plan there are also numerous twilight cloud observations.


It makes me smile to think of Curiosity sitting there on sol 4000, peacefully watching the clouds roll by in Gale crater, and reflecting on an impressive record of exploration. 


This is a photo of an area on Mars, captured on Mars day 3990, that scientists are exploring.
This image was taken by Left Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3990 (2023-10-27 20:27:30 UTC). Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

The Navcam image above looks back towards the northern crater rim, across the plains of Aeolis Palus that we traversed many years ago. From our vantage point on Mount Sharp, we have quite a lot to look back on, and a lot of exciting discoveries that lie ahead.  

Happy sol 4000!


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