Curiosity fires its first space-laser shot, zaps a Martian rock

This composite image, with magnified insets, depicts the first laser test by the ChemCam, instrument aboard NASA's Curiosity Mars rover. [Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/CNES/IRAP]

The Curiosity Rover has been gearing up for its mission over the last two weeks. While Curiosity hasn't ventured very far, it’s already taken a handful of photos and downloaded a brand new OS to help it better explore the red planet. But that's not all that the rover has been up to. 

On Sunday, the Curiosity rover fired its first intergalactic laser shot to investigate a fist-sized rock named “Coronation.” Curiosity hit the rock with 30 pulses of laser light from its ChemCam, pummeling the stone with a million watts of power for about five one-billionths of a second.

The energy imparted from the laser excites the atoms of the rock into an ionized, glowing plasma state. The laser also burns away any foreign contaminants, such as dust, that might have settled on the rock.

Once the lasers light up the material, the ChemCam uses a telescope to take a closer look at the target area. It analyzes the glow of the material with three spectrometers—which are tuned for visible, infrared, and ultraviolet light—to determine what elements the rock contains.

NASA scientists expect to analyze plenty of rocks from afar using the laser over the course of Curiosity’s two-year mission.

[Credit: Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/CNES/IRAP]

What do you expect Curiosity to find on Mars? Leave a comment.

[NASA]

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