August 19, 2012: NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has fired its laser for the first time on Mars. On Aug. 19th the mission's ChemCam instrument hit a fist-sized rock named "Coronation" 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 creates a puff of ionized, glowing plasma. ChemCam catches the light with a telescope and analyzes it with three spectrometers for information about what elements are in the rock. The spectrometers record 6,144 different wavelengths of ultraviolet, visible and infrared light.
"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!"
This composite image, with magnified insets, depicts the first laser test by the ChemCam, instrument aboard NASA's Curiosity Mars rover. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/CNES/IRAP [Full image and caption] [Latest images]
Source: NASA Science News
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