Mars Rover Zap Its First Rock With A Laser

NASAIllustration of the ChemChem, which will use a laser to analyse the elements of Martian rocks.

Two weeks after landing on Mars, NASA’s Curiosity rover has zapped its first Martian rock using a powerful laser fired by the machine’s ChemChem instrument. The goal is to analyse the atomic elements of the rock.  The laser struck the fist-size rock, called “Coronation,” with 30 pules over 10 seconds. “Each pulse delivered more than a million watts of power for about five one-billionths of a second,” says NASA

The energy from the laser heats the rocks, turning its atoms into a glowing ball of plasma, or ionized gas. The instrument catches the light and analyses its chemical makeup.  

The picture below is a composite image that shows Curiosity’s first laser target, a three-inch long rock located about seven feet from the rover. The background image was taken by Curiosity’s Navigation Camera, which is mounted on the rover’s mast. The insets were snapped by the high resolution camera in the ChemChem instrument .

Curiosity

Photo: NASA

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