NASA’s Curiosity rover successfully blasted a Mars rock with a powerful laser beam, for the first time in history, today Aug. 19, inaugurating a revolutionary new era in planetary science with a new type of instrument that will deliver bountiful discoveries. The fist sized Martian rock zapped during the maiden laser target practice shots was appropriately dubbed “Coronation."
The ChemCam instrument mounted at the top of Curiosity’s mast fired a total of 30 one-million watt pulses over a 10 second period at the 3 inch wide rock that vaporized a pinhead sized spot into an ionized, glowing plasma.
Each pulse lasted about five one-billionths of a second and was sufficient in energy to generate a spark of plasma to be observed with the ChemCam telescope and trio of spectrometers below deck in order to identify the elemental composition.
“Yes, I’ve got a laser beam attached to my head. I’m not ill tempered; I zapped a rock for science. PewPew,” tweeted Curiosity.
PewPew !! – First Laser Zapped rock on Mars. This composite image, with magnified insets, depicts the first laser test by the Chemistry and Camera, or ChemCam, instrument aboard NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover. The composite incorporates a Navigation Camera image taken prior to the test, with insets taken by the camera in ChemCam. The circular insert highlights the rock before the laser test. The square inset is further magnified and processed to show the difference between images taken before and after the laser interrogation of the fist-sized rock, called “Coronation.” It is the first rock on any extraterrestrial planet to be investigated with such a laser test. ChemCam inaugurated use of its laser when it used the beam to investigate Coronation during Curiosity’s 13th day after landing. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/CNES/IRAP
The NASA composite image above shows Coronation before and after the laser shots—watch out little Martians!