Set phasers to stun.
The rover’s Chemistry and Camera instrument, known as ChemCam, blasted a fist-sized rock called “Coronation” with 30 pulses of its laser for 10 seconds on Sunday. Each pulse delivers more than a million watts of power for about five one-billionths of a second, according to a release. This energy turns atoms from the rock into an ionized, glowing plasma, which NASA can then analyze to determine the target’s elements.
“It’s surprising that the data are even better than we ever had during tests on Earth, in signal-to-noise ratio,” said Sylvestre Maurice, ChemCam’s deputy project scientist. “It’s so rich, we can expect great science from investigating what might be thousands of targets with ChemCam in the next two years.”
Curiosity’s inaugural blast was originally meant to be “target practice,” but the data found may be helpful to researchers, who will see if the rock’s composition changed as the laser penetrated it.
It’s the first time that this technique, called “laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy,” has been used in space exploration, NASA said. Previously, scientists used it to determine the molecular breakdown of targets in other extreme environments, such as inside nuclear reactors and on the sea floor.SEE ALSO: This is Where NASA’s Mars Rover Curiosity is Headed [PICS]
It took eight years for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Los Alamos National Laboratory and France’s national space and research agencies to build the ChemCam.
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