Curiosity's laser leaves its mark

Aug 31, 2012 by Jason Major
Before-and-after images from Curiosity’s ChemCam  micro-imager show holes left by its million-watt laser. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/CNES/IRAP/LPGN/CNRS

Curiosity's head-mounted ChemCam did a little target practice on August 25, blasting millimeter-sized holes in a soil sample named "Beechey" in order to acquire spectrographic data from the resulting plasma glow. The neat line of holes is called a five-by-one raster, and was made from a distance of about 11.5 feet (3.5 meters).

Sorry Obi-Wan, but Curiosity's blaster is neither clumsy nor random!

Mounted to Curiosity's "head", just above its Mastcam camera "eyes", ChemCam combines a powerful laser with a telescope and that can analyze the light emitted by zapped materials, thereby determining with unprecedented precision what Mars is really made of.

ChemCam’s laser allows Curiosity to zap and examine targets up to 23 feet (7 meters) away. Credit: J-L. Lacour/CEA/French Space Agency (CNES)

For five billionths of a second the laser focuses a million of energy onto a specific point. Each of the 5 holes seen on Beechey are the result of 50 laser hits. 2 to 4 millimeters in diameter, the holes are much larger than the laser point itself, which is only .43 millimeters wide at that distance.

"ChemCam is designed to look for lighter elements such as carbon, , and oxygen, all of which are crucial for life," said Roger Wiens, principal investigator of the ChemCam team. "The system can provide immediate, unambiguous detection of water from frost or other sources on the surface as well as carbon – a basic building block of life as well as a possible byproduct of life. This makes the ChemCam a vital component of 's mission."

Explore further: MAVEN Mars spacecraft to begin orbit of Red Planet

More information: www.msl-chemcam.com/

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User comments : 3

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geokstr
1 / 5 (6) Aug 31, 2012
Is it my imagination, or are those round objects potentially more of those "blueberries" that famously caused controversy in prior missions? These might just be ones that are buried in the soil, while the others were exposed.
GSwift7
3 / 5 (2) Sep 01, 2012
Is it my imagination, or are those round objects potentially more of those "blueberries" that famously caused controversy in prior missions? These might just be ones that are buried in the soil, while the others were exposed


Those are the holes made by the laser. Duh. Read the story.
geokstr
1 / 5 (3) Sep 17, 2012
Duh-uh. I read the story. I also looked closely at the pictures.

On the right side, you will see a round shape, and to left a couple more of the same shape and size but less distinct than the first one.
Unless the whole theory of shadowing is wrong, if those were holes, they should be dark, yet instead they are bright, surrounded by shadows, indicating they are raised with respect to the surrounding material.

Unless, of course, this is the brand new tractor beam laser technology, which sucks the material up instead of making a hole. I must have missed the physorg article on that one. Perhaps you could give a link.

Perhaps even better, when someone posts a reasonable question, you could answer it without the personal attack. Who are you, Vendicar in disguise? IIRC, you're one of the good guys here, but I could always be mistaken about that.