Today, NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity fired its laser for the first time on Mars, using the beam from a science instrument to interrogate a fist-size rock called “Coronation.”
The mission’s Chemistry and Camera instrument, or ChemCam, hit the fist-sized rock with 30 pulses of its laser during a 10-second period. Each pulse delivers more than a million watts of power for about five one-billionths of a second.
The energy from the laser excites atoms in the rock into an ionized, glowing plasma. ChemCam catches the light from that spark with a telescope and analyzes it with three spectrometers for information about what elements are in the target.
“We got a great spectrum of Coronation — lots of signal,” said ChemCam Principal Investigator Roger Wiens of Los Alamos National Laboratory, N.M. “Our team is both thrilled and working hard, looking at the results. After eight years building the instrument, it’s payoff time!” Via Rover’s laser instrument zaps first Martian rock.