The Curiosity Rover recently landed on Mars and has now fired its laser beam at Martian rock, with over 30 pulses across a 10 second period. NASA issued the statement from mission control at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Los Angeles.
The pulses from the robotic science lab deliver more than 1 million watts of energy for about five one billionths of a second. This vaporises a pinhead sized bit of rock to create a tiny spark, which is analysed by a small telescope mounted on the instrument.
This ionised glow can be read from 25 feet away and then analysed. It is split into its component wavelengths by three spectrometers to give scientists information about the chemical construction of the rock.
The system is called ‘Chemistry and Camera instrument’ or ‘ChemCam’. NASA designed it to take 14,000 measurements throughout the planned mission on Mars.
The Sunday laser pulse was a ‘target practise’ session. However the scientists will analyse the data they receive to determine the construction of the rock (nicknamed ‘Coronation’).
ChemCam principal investigator Roger Wiengs said “We got a great spectrum of Coronation – lots of signal. After eight years of building the instrument, it’s payoff time.”
The main target will be Mount Sharp, a mass of layered rock rising from the floor of Gale Crater. Scientists are keen the check out the systems first before the trip across the Mars planet surface.
The project has cost $2.5 billion, and is NASA’s first astrobiology mission since the Viking probes were sent to Mars during the 1970s.
Kitguru says: We look forward to the findings over the coming year, as it will give us a good insight into the planet and whether life was ever present.