Daniel Porter
Aug 20, 2012

Curiosity's laser ignites martian rock

Though it's no shark, having a robot on another planet with a laser attached to its "head" is still pretty cool. The Rover's "ChemCam," more aptly referred to as the "badass laser cam," is equipped with a megawatt laser designed to burn up its targets to investigate their makeup. Yesterday, the rover tested its laser on a component of the martian surface for the first time. The powerful instrument focuses all its energy to an area roughly one millimeter square, igniting its target and creating a hot plasma. The materials that make up the laser's target glow as they burn, shining with distinct atomic spectra dependent on their composition. The ChemCam's second component, a telescope-like camera, then images these spectra for later analysis by the science team. The laser is designed to, as it did in yesterday's test, fire a series of pulses in a row so that scientists can obtain spectra of materials beneath the surface of a rock, as well as the dust that covers it.