Mars Rover Curiosity Chemcam has fired laser for first time. NASA’s Mars exploration rover Curiosity has for the first time fired its laser beam to check the composition of a small Mars rock. The vehicle sent 30 high-power laser pulses to blast the rock namely “Coronation,” said the U.S. the space agency on Sunday. The laser beam comes from a tool called the Chemistry and Camera instrument, a.k.a. ChemCam. It is a tool usually used to measure the composition of rocks on the sea floor and other locations.
The ChemCam utilizes a technology called laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy to measure the state of a rock. The technology releases high power laser pulses, which penetrate into the rock and expose its composition. Each blast the process causes on the rock deploys more than a million watts. It helps energize atoms in the rock and turn it “into an ionized, glowing plasma,” says NASA. After this process, a telescope can easily capture the light from the plasma and the resultant data is used for determining the composition.
“We got a great spectrum of Coronation — lots of signal,” says Roger Wiens, who is the principal investigator of ChemCam. “Our team is both thrilled and working hard, looking at the results. After eight years building the instrument, it’s payoff time!” he added. The NASA team has been highly enthusiastic of the success of Curiosity that continues its exploration on Mars to check whether its surface has the substance of water or life.
“ChemCam recorded spectra from the laser-induced spark at each of the 30 pulses. The goal of this initial use of the laser on Mars was to serve as target practice for characterizing the instrument, but the activity may provide additional value” says NASA. Later, scientists will determine if the rock’s composition has altered with the passage of the pulses. “If it did change, that could indicate dust or other surface material being penetrated to reveal different composition beneath the surface. The spectrometers record intensity at 6,144 different wavelengths of ultraviolet, visible and infrared light,” NASA adds.
Laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy
It is no more a new technology. It has been largely in use on Earth to measure materials on the sea floor and other rough areas like nuclear reactors. However, it is for the first time that it has been used on another planet. It is great to know that the laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy works well on Mars. The scientists are expecting to explore more to the chemical state of the planet and its surface using the technology.
According to NASA scientists, the ChemCam technology will further be used to determine the material composition of the rocks on Mars. The weekend’s attempt was just a practice for the machine. It has the capacity to examine thousands of targets over the coming years on Mars, says Sylvestre Maurice, the ChemCam Deputy Project Scientist. In fact, the major function of the Mars rover is to investigate into the probability for the life on the planet. NASA scientists successfully landed the rover on Mars for the most advanced study ever about the Mars.
Curiosity landed on the planet on Aug 6 with huge fanfare from across the world. Space scientists at NASA completed the dream mission with huge ecstasy. The vehicle weighs a ton and it has the size of a small SUV. Thanks to many sophisticated camera and sensors, Curiosity has started to send high quality images of the Mars surface. “Curiosity’s mission will span two years and help scientists determine if portions of the red planet ever had conditions that could have been suitable for microbial life,” says the Huffington Post.