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Mars rover zaps rock with laser beam

Posted on Tuesday, 21 August, 2012 | Comment icon 15 comments | News tip by: Waspie_Dwarf

Image credit: NASA

NASA's Curiosity rover debuted its ChemCam laser by firing the tool at a nearby rock called 'Coronation'.

The instrument hit the rock 30 times with small laser pulses, each delivering a million watts of power for about five one-billionths of a second. This energy produces a spark which can be picked up and analyzed by the rover's on board spectrometers. While scientists don't expect to find anything particularly interesting in this initial test, the move has helped them to calibrate the instruments and check that everything is working as it should.

"We got a great spectrum of Coronation - lots of signal," said investigator Roger Wiens. "Our team is both thrilled and working hard, looking at the results. After eight years building the instrument, it's payoff time!"

"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."

  View: Full article |  Source: NASA

  Discuss: View comments (15)


Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #6 Posted by Khaleid on 22 August, 2012, 5:14
I was wondering something. Why do they use a Mars rock as a first sample? Wouldn't it be much more logical for Curiosity to bring along an Earth rock of known composition and test its instruments with that sample first in order to see whether all instruments are still calibrated correctly after touchdown? Or am I being naive and does this always happen by default and never get reported by the media? (Since the article says "fired its laser for the first time on Mars" I'm assuming they did not test the instruments.) Or is there another reason why this isn't done?
Comment icon #7 Posted by Hazzard on 22 August, 2012, 13:56
One word comes to mind,... Contamination.
Comment icon #8 Posted by Uncle Sam on 22 August, 2012, 13:58
They did test it on Earth first, but they must test it again after landing to make sure it is in working order. Bringing an Rock from Earth can contaminate the chemical composure, obscuring any readings which can show false promise of life. This is a very delicate mission, which involves hunting for any signs of life without any contamination from Earth, which is achieved by building the Unmanned Robot in a Vacuum.
Comment icon #9 Posted by Khaleid on 23 August, 2012, 4:58
Well, maybe I didn't really think the wording through. Maybe I should rephrase that so it replaces "Earth rock of known composition" with "uncontaminated sample of known composition, fabricated in a vacuum". In other words, my actual boggle is: How do they test that the instruments are working fine after the long and bumpy ride? I doubt they know the exact composition of Coronation beforehand, so how do they know everything's working fine without trying the instruments on some known sample?
Comment icon #10 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf on 23 August, 2012, 15:55
From JPL's "MSL Science Corner": Source: http://msl-scicorner.jpl.nasa.gov/Instruments/ChemCam/
Comment icon #11 Posted by Khaleid on 23 August, 2012, 18:19
Thanks for the enlightening insight Waspie
Comment icon #12 Posted by ealdwita on 23 August, 2012, 18:46
Comment icon #13 Posted by meankitty on 1 September, 2012, 20:05
I'd say it means the laser had been likely fired before, just not on Mars.
Comment icon #14 Posted by DONTEATUS on 1 September, 2012, 20:30
I say Blast away ! We need to Blast every thing we can on Mars ! THIS will indeed set off a great debate on whats actually up there in those rocks ! We need data,and lots of it. We need to Go to Mars ourselfs in person! This is what man does so well ,EXPLORE ! Anyone eles wanna Go ?

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