ChemCam laser sets its sights on first Martian target

Aug 17, 2012
ChemCam laser sets its sights on first Martian target

Members of the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover ChemCam team have received the first photos from the instrument's remote micro imager. The successful capture of ChemCam's first 10 photos sets the stage for the first test bursts of the instrument's rock-zapping laser in the near future.

"The successful delivery of these photos means we can begin efforts in earnest for the first images of Mars rocks by the ChemCam instrument and the first use of the instrument's laser," said Los Alamos National Laboratory Roger Wiens, Principal Investigator of the ChemCam Team. "We anticipate these next steps over the weekend."

The next tasks for ChemCam—the inaugural laser burst and spectral reading—will help scientists determine the integrity of the ChemCam system and the pointing capability of the rover's mast, which supports ChemCam's laser and telescope. Scientists and engineers from NASA's Curiosity rover mission have selected ChemCam's first target, a three-inch rock designated N-165 located near the rover.

"Rock N-165 looks like your typical Mars rock, about three inches (seven centimeters) wide and it's about 10 feet away," Wiens said. "We are going to hit it with 14 milliJoules of energy 30 times in 10 seconds. It is not only going to be an excellent test of our system, but it should be pretty cool too."

The ChemCam system is one of 10 instruments mounted on the MSL mission's Curiosity rover—a six-wheeled mobile laboratory that will roam more than 12 miles of the planet's surface during the course of one Martian year (98 Earth weeks).

When ChemCam fires its extremely powerful laser pulse, it briefly focuses the energy of a million light bulbs onto an area the size of a pinhead. The blast vaporizes a small amount of its target up to seven meters (23 feet) away.

The resultant flash of glowing plasma is viewed by the system's 4.3-inch aperture telescope, which sends the light down an optical fiber to a spectrometer located in the body of the rover. There the colors of the light from the flash are recorded, enabling scientists to determine the elemental composition of the vaporized material. ChemCam also has a high-resolution camera that provides close-up images of an analyzed location. It can image a human hair from seven feet away.

The ChemCam system is designed to capture as many as 14,000 observations throughout the mission.

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GSwift7
2.3 / 5 (3) Aug 17, 2012
It is not only going to be an excellent test of our system, but it should be pretty cool too


I wonder if there would be anything visible to the normal cameras on the rover when they do this? I wonder if they can operate both at the same time? If the answer to both questions is yes, then I wonder if they plan to film the system in operation?
Kafpauzo
1 / 5 (1) Aug 17, 2012
I wonder if there would be anything visible to the normal cameras on the rover when they do this? I wonder if they can operate both at the same time? If the answer to both questions is yes, then I wonder if they plan to film the system in operation?

In one of the information videos they say that the laser ray is invisible.

When the laser hits the target surface, it creates a plasma or flash that I suppose might be visible to the normal cameras -- if they manage to catch it. The laser pulse is just a microsecond long, so the flash may very difficult to catch, they would probably need very good synchronization.

The bright spot is also really, really tiny. Unfortunately I don't remember the size.

My guess is that all you'd see, if anything at all, would be that a single pixel is very marginally brighter. No drama at all, unfortunately.
Kafpauzo
1 / 5 (1) Aug 17, 2012
I think there's a misunderstanding in the article.

If I recall correctly, those initial 10 photos that are mentioned in the article have not yet been taken, but will be taken very soon, some time in the next few days. Then on the day after that, the laser zapping begins, assuming everything works as expected.
Kafpauzo
4 / 5 (4) Aug 17, 2012
Translations added between [ ]:

"Rock N-165 looks like your typical Mars rock, about three inches (seven centimeters) wide and it's about 10 feet [3 meters] away,"

a six-wheeled mobile laboratory that will roam more than 12 miles [19 km] of the planet's surface during the course of one Martian year (98 Earth weeks).

When ChemCam fires its extremely powerful laser pulse, it briefly focuses the energy of a million light bulbs [unit not found, translation impossible] onto an area the size of a pinhead [unit not found, translation impossible].

The resultant flash of glowing plasma is viewed by the system's 4.3-inch [10.9 cm] aperture telescope,

It can image a human hair [unit not found, translation impossible] from seven feet [2 meters] away.

Note: I _think_ NASA gave most of the above numbers in rounded meters and cm, and the author translated them to the above rounded inches and feet. This introduces some marginal errors. My translation back introduces new errors.
Sonhouse
not rated yet Aug 17, 2012
It is not only going to be an excellent test of our system, but it should be pretty cool too


I wonder if there would be anything visible to the normal cameras on the rover when they do this? I wonder if they can operate both at the same time? If the answer to both questions is yes, then I wonder if they plan to film the system in operation?

The article says there is a 4 inch telescope aimed at the rock so for sure a regular camera would not pick up much. Besides, the whole idea is to read the resultant spectrum, not image the flash.
Vendicar Dickarian
2 / 5 (4) Aug 17, 2012
It is not only going to be an excellent test of our system, but it should be pretty cool too


I wonder if there would be anything visible to the normal cameras on the rover when they do this? I wonder if they can operate both at the same time? If the answer to both questions is yes, then I wonder if they plan to film the system in operation?


There's a good special on NatGeo where they show a test of the system. Earth-based, of course, but they tried to simulate the environment on Mars. There's just a very small "poof" of dust and that's about it.
javjav
not rated yet Aug 17, 2012
It can image a human hair from seven feet away.


It does not say anything about the camera. Even low cost consumer cameras can image a human hair at seven feet. The author should mention the effective resolution at that distance, or to use a better example.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.5 / 5 (19) Aug 17, 2012
Note: I _think_ NASA gave most of the above numbers in rounded meters and cm, and the author translated them to the above rounded inches and feet. This introduces some marginal errors. My translation back introduces new errors.
You mean the author in the PR dept at Los alamos who was writing for people in the US with limited ability to understand this stuff don't you?

Why dont you do a little research to confirm exactly where this came from and who the audience was intended to be and then get back to us ok? Start by looking in the Los alamos press releases and try to match up copy.
SatanLover
3.7 / 5 (3) Aug 17, 2012
Note: I _think_ NASA gave most of the above numbers in rounded meters and cm, and the author translated them to the above rounded inches and feet. This introduces some marginal errors. My translation back introduces new errors.
You mean the author in the PR dept at Los alamos who was writing for people in the US with limited ability to understand this stuff don't you?

Why dont you do a little research to confirm exactly where this came from and who the audience was intended to be and then get back to us ok? Start by looking in the Los alamos press releases and try to match up copy.


this way americans will never understand the ISO metric system. you have to start change somewhere.
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
5 / 5 (2) Aug 17, 2012
That is the resolution at that distance, a hair is typically 0.02 - 0.2 mm in diameter so they are claiming 0.1 mm at a guess.
Kafpauzo
4 / 5 (4) Aug 17, 2012
people in the US with limited ability to understand this stuff

I'm not childish enough to have that kind of disdainful attitude toward people.

If you're used to inches and feet, obviously inches and feet are more useful for you. That has nothing to do with limited abilities to understand things. It's just a matter what you're used to.

Me, I'm used to meters and cm, so that's what's more useful to me. And this website has an international audience. I'm sure I'm not the only one who finds this kind of translation useful.

Why dont you do a little research to confirm exactly where this came from and who the audience was intended to be and then get back to us ok?

Research? To correct for very marginal rounding errors? Why?

Anyway, NASA's Curiosity people gave this information in a teleconference that doesn't seem to be available as a saved file. I listened while it happened. This teleconference: http://www.nasa.g...816.html
Kafpauzo
1 / 5 (1) Aug 18, 2012
NASA's Curiosity people gave this information in a teleconference that doesn't seem to be available as a saved file.

Glad to be wrong. It turns out that the teleconference is available in recorded format: http://www.ustrea...24773693 .

The Mars images for that teleconference can be seen in higher resolution here: http://www.nasa.g...dex.html . But that page will change when it's time for the next teleconference. There's a link to previous images at the bottom.

And, by the way:

My guess is that all you'd see, if anything at all, would be that a single pixel is very marginally brighter. No drama at all, unfortunately.

Glad to be wrong there too:

There's a good special on NatGeo where they show a test of the system. Earth-based, of course, but they tried to simulate the environment on Mars. There's just a very small "poof" of dust and that's about it.

A little poof sounds like the perfect Mars drama! I hope they film it.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.4 / 5 (20) Aug 18, 2012
I'm not childish enough to have that kind of disdainful attitude toward people.
Blah?
Me, I'm used to meters and cm, so that's what's more useful to me. And this website has an international audience. I'm sure I'm not the only one who finds this kind of translation useful.
-So sorry for your limited ability. I and most amerikins have to stop and compare yards to meters. This is limiting no?
this way americans will never understand the ISO metric system. you have to start change somewhere.
Naw we all have gadgets to do this for us.
Jotaf
not rated yet Aug 18, 2012
It wouldn't be hard for PhysOrg to have an automatic translation in either direction (imperial/metric). With a javascript or PHP script, but hey, I'm no web designer.
Digi
5 / 5 (2) Aug 18, 2012
Metric or imperial, as long as Curiosity fulfils it's potential I don't give a square mile.
Kafpauzo
1 / 5 (1) Aug 19, 2012
Me, I'm used to meters and cm, so that's what's more useful to me. And this website has an international audience. I'm sure I'm not the only one who finds this kind of translation useful.

-So sorry for your limited ability.

Limited? How?

I and most amerikins have to stop and compare yards to meters. This is limiting no?

I and most Europeans have to stop and compare meters to yards. It's the same thing. Where's the difference?

I made some translations to simplify this. My translations are obviously not intended for you, so why can't you just ignore them? Why are my translations for Europeans a problem for you?
Kafpauzo
3.7 / 5 (3) Aug 19, 2012
It's such a momentous event.

The rover's task is to find out if life is possible, or has been possible, on a planet other than Earth.

I wonder how the scientists will react, and how the media will react, if the zapped rock sprouts legs and runs away.
Jotaf
not rated yet Aug 19, 2012
I'm just glad it has a lazor to defend itself... just in case!
TheGhostofOtto1923
4.1 / 5 (17) Aug 19, 2012
I and most Europeans have to stop and compare meters to yards. It's the same thing. Where's the difference?


'Because... we live here!'
Sorry its the first thing that came to mind.
http://www.youtub...fHoNQil4
I'm just glad it has a lazor to defend itself... just in case!
Did you know the first russian space stations had anti-apollo cannon?
http://en.wikiped...ki/Almaz

-The universe is full of pit bulls.
packrat
2.3 / 5 (3) Aug 20, 2012
Working it through a converter program it works out to hitting it 30 times in 10 seconds with approximately a 2 ounce weight. Very small amount of rock dust from that. It's amazing the instruments can pick it up and analyze it from that distance with so little to work with.
GSwift7
2 / 5 (3) Aug 20, 2012
The laser pulse is just a microsecond long, so the flash may very difficult to catch, they would probably need very good synchronization


They can use a long exposure and easily catch it with a still photo.