A small, flat rock known as Coronation suffered the wrath of Curiosity’s laser when the Mars rover finally fired up its ChemCam instrument and delivered 30 pulses of energy at the rock over a 10-second period.
The laser pulses, each delivering more than 1 million watts of power for around 5 one-billionths of a second, turn some of the rock’s atoms into a glowing, ionized plasma. By analyzing the light from the plasma, the ChemCam’s three spectrometers can determine what elements are in the rock.
“We got a great spectrum of Coronation — lots of signal,” Roger Wiens of Los Alamos National Laboratory, leader of the ChemCam scientific team, said in a press release today. “Our team is both thrilled and working hard, looking at the results. After eight years building the instrument, it’s payoff time!”
The rock formerly known as N165 was selected as a good target for Curiosity to test its laser on. Scientists are using the data to learn how ChemCam is working, but they were impressed with the quality of the data, which are even better than the data acquired during testing on Earth, and they may learn something about the rock as well.
“It’s surprising that the data are even better than we ever had during tests on Earth, in signal-to-noise ratio,” ChemCam scientist Sylvestre Maurice of the Institut de Recherche en Astrophysique et Planétologie (IRAP) in Toulouse, France, said in the press release. “It’s so rich, we can expect great science from investigating what might be thousands of targets with ChemCam in the next two years.”
From Wired Science By Betsy Mason