August 23, 2012 - The Mars
zapped its first rock
on Sunday with a high-powered laser gun designed to analyze Martian mineral content, and scientists declared their target practice a success.
The robotic science lab aimed its laser beam at the fist-sized stone nearby and shot the rock with 30 pulses over a 10-second period, NASA
said in a statement issued from mission control at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory
near Los Angeles.
Each pulse delivers more than 1 million watts of energy for about five one-billionths of a second, vapourising a pinhead-sized bit of the rock to create a tiny spark, which is analyzed by a small telescope mounted on the instrument.The ionized glow, which can be observed and recorded from up to 25 feet away, is then split into its component wavelengths by three spectrometers that give scientists information about the chemical makeup of the target rock.
The combined system, called the Chemistry-and-Camera instrument, or ChemCam, is capable of discerning more than 6,000 different wavelengths in the ultraviolet, infrared and visible light spectrum and is designed to take about 14,000 measurements throughout Curiosity's Mars
The purpose of Sunday's initial use of the laser, conducted at roughly 3 a.m. Pacific time (7.00 a.m. EDT), was as 'target practice' for the instrument.
But scientists will examine the data they receive to determine composition of the rock, which they dubbed 'Coronation,' NASA
'We got a great spectrum of Coronation - lots of signal,' said ChemCam principal investigator Roger Wiens of the Los Alamos National Laboratory
in New Mexico, where the instrument was developed.
'After eight years of building the instrument, it's payoff time.'
Curiosity, a one-ton, six-wheeled vehicle the size of a compact car, landed inside a vast, ancient impact crater near Mars' equator on August 6 after an eight-month, 354-million-mile voyage through space.
Its two-year mission is aimed at determining whether or not the planet most like Earth could have hosted microbial life.