Curiosity’s Laser Leaves Its Mark

by Jason Major on August 30, 2012

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Before-and-after images from Curiosity’s ChemCam  micro-imager show holes left by its million-watt laser (NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/CNES/IRAP/LPGN/CNRS)

PEWPEWPEWPEWPEW! Curiosity’s head-mounted ChemCam did a little target practice on August 25, blasting millimeter-sized holes in a soil sample named “Beechey” in order to acquire spectrographic data from the resulting plasma glow. The neat line of holes is called a five-by-one raster, and was made from a distance of about 11.5 feet (3.5 meters).

Sorry Obi-Wan, but Curiosity’s blaster is neither clumsy nor random!

Mounted to Curiosity’s “head”, just above its Mastcam camera “eyes”, ChemCam combines a powerful laser with a telescope and spectrometer that can analyze the light emitted by zapped materials, thereby determining with unprecedented precision what Mars is really made of.

Read: Take a Look Through Curiosity’s ChemCam

For five billionths of a second the laser focuses a million watts of energy onto a specific point. Each of the 5 holes seen on Beechey are the result of 50 laser hits. 2 to 4 millimeters in diameter, the holes are much larger than the laser point itself, which is only .43 millimeters wide at that distance.

ChemCam’s laser allows Curiosity to zap and examine targets up to 23 feet (7 meters) away. Credit: J-L. Lacour/CEA/French Space Agency (CNES)

“ChemCam is designed to look for lighter elements such as carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen, all of which are crucial for life,” said Roger Wiens, principal investigator of the ChemCam team. “The system can provide immediate, unambiguous detection of water from frost or other sources on the surface as well as carbon – a basic building block of life as well as a possible byproduct of life. This makes the ChemCam a vital component of Curiosity’s mission.”

Visit the official ChemCam site for more information.

About 

A graphic designer in Rhode Island, Jason writes about space exploration on his blog Lights In The Dark, Discovery News, and, of course, here on Universe Today. Ad astra!

ClayCampbell August 30, 2012 at 11:47 PM

An elegant weapon of a more civilized age…

Jonathan Warden August 31, 2012 at 3:39 AM

Except that it isn’t a weapon. Lasers, currently, are incredibly impractical for combat.

Jeffrey Scott Boerst August 31, 2012 at 5:00 PM

Metaphor………………

HeadAroundU August 31, 2012 at 1:50 AM

y JASON MAJOR on AUGUST 30, 2012
Want to stay on top of all the space news? Follow @universetoday on Twitter

Read more: http://www.universetoday.com/97138/curiositys-laser-leaves-its-mark/#ixzz255IVm9lh

HeadAroundU August 31, 2012 at 1:54 AM

y JOHN WILLIAMS on AUGUST 30, 2012
Want to stay on top of all the space news? Follow JOHN WILLIAMS into his kitchen

Read more: http://www.universetoday.com/97128/changing-hues-signal-transition-of-seasons-at-saturn/#ixzz255IhnV9x

justafan August 31, 2012 at 4:39 AM

Yes but it could lop the head off a martian at 100 meters.

Tim McDaniel August 31, 2012 at 4:49 AM

The angles of the holes are wrong for shots from Curiosity. I have solid evidence that the shots came from a second rover behind Glenelg.

meekGee August 31, 2012 at 5:40 AM

Yeah, but Glenelg shot first

Patrick Ahles August 30, 2012 at 11:57 PM

“ChemCam is designed to look for lighter elements such as carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen, all of which are crucial for life,”

… as we know it!

Mpj Marsphotojournal August 31, 2012 at 7:55 AM

“The system can provide immediate, unambiguous detection of water from frost or other sources on the surface…”
So does that mean the hydrogen readings in the first published results of the ChemCam system is related to frost/water? Taken the fact it was only detected at the surface of the target that would make sense.

Read more: http://www.universetoday.com/97138/curiositys-laser-leaves-its-mark/#ixzz256k28ltX

Michael Bergman August 31, 2012 at 1:26 PM

What if the life form on Mars are Rockpeople. We will be at war in a week.

Jeffrey Scott Boerst August 31, 2012 at 5:01 PM

Dammit Jim, I’m a doctor not a brick layer!

John S Wolter August 31, 2012 at 3:05 PM

Oh!…now we’re doing graffiti on Mars, “Where will it end, Where will it end…”(1936).

Aqua4U August 31, 2012 at 3:35 PM

I’d like to see Curiosity ‘zap’ some of those ‘blueberries’… if found in that area?

Aqua4U August 31, 2012 at 3:38 PM

Are the round objects in the top image ‘blueberries’? Zap one of those!

Laurel Nendza August 31, 2012 at 4:32 PM

Great article! I love learning about how we are exploring Mars.

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