Curiosity Is Going To Burn This Mars Rock With A Laser



Curiosity has set her sights on her first laser target: Rock N165. The rock is located about seven feet from the rover and is about three inches long. In a few days, the chemcam will shoot 30 laser pulses over 10 seconds, heating the rock to the point where its molecules become a burning ball of plasma. The instrument looks at this fireball, and analyses the colours of the light that are in the fire, which indicates what atoms are in the sample.The cameras on the Chemcam instrument are such high resolution that they can image a hair from seven feet away.

“Our team has waited eight long years to get to this date. Hopefully we will be back early next week, and we will be able tot talk about how Curiosity’s first laser shots went,” Roger Wiens, the Chemcam principal investigator from Los Alamos National Laboratory, said during a NASA press conference today, Aug. 17.

After testing the Chemcam out on poor little N165, the rover is planning to set its sights on one of the thruster burn marks — which they’ve named “Goulburn scour” — to be one of the first scientific targets with the Chemcam. “That’s the one that attracted the most attention, the Goulburn target. There’s some bedrock exposed with different colours,” John Grotzinger, project scientist at JPL.

curiosity's scour marksThe four scours where Curiosity’s thrusters burnt the Mars surface.

Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

sleepy dragon scourGoulburn Scour

Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The researchers also announced the first science target they are planning to drive the rover to. A region called Glenelg, where it looks like three different types of rock converge. “It just looks distinctive and interesting … we thought: It looks cool, let’s go there,” Grotzinger said. This will be first place they are planning to drill, and they are also planning to pick up and test some soil samples along the way.

curiosity glenelg siteNext target: Glenelg

Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

“That area marks the intersection of three kinds of terrain. Starting clockwise from the top of this image, scientists are interested in this brighter terrain because it may represent a kind of bedrock suitable for eventual drilling by Curiosity,” NASA’s photo caption says. “The next terrain shows the marks of many small craters and intrigues scientists because it might represent an older or harder surface. The third, which is the kind of terrain Curiosity landed in, is interesting because scientists can try to determine if the same kind of rock texture at Goulburn, an area where blasts from the descent stage rocket engines scoured away some of the surface, also occurs at Glenelg.”

The names of these areas  — like Glenelg and Goulburn — come from a list of 2 billion year old Northern Canadian rock formations that the team will be using as names for different geographical features on the red planet.

One final great picture from today’s announcement: A high resolution self-portrait of Curiosity with Mount Sharp in the background, put together using 20 1,024 by 1,024 pixel images taken August 7.

Curiosity self portraitSelf-portrait.

Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech

More Mars:

  • Imagine You’re Walking On Mars With This Interactive Panorama
  • Curiosity Rover Takes An Adorable Self-Portrait
  • These Are The Conditions A Human Would Face On Mars

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