CNET también está disponible en español.

Ir a español

Don't show this again

First laser-zapped rock on Mars

This composite image, with magnified insets, depicts the first laser test by the Chemistry and Camera, or ChemCam, instrument aboard NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover.

The ChemCam instrument will be firing a series of powerful, but invisible, laser pulses at target rocks and soil for at least the next two years, according to the NASA schedule. It's located on the rover's mast, near the Navigation camera that took this image. A telescopic camera known as the remote micro-imager will show the atomic context of the spots hit with the laser.

The circular insert highlights the rock before the laser test. The square inset is further magnified and processed to show the difference between images taken before and after the laser interrogation of the rock.

of 11

ChemCam's first target

This mosaic image shows the first target NASA's Curiosity rover aims to zap with the ChemCam instrument. ChemCam will be firing a laser at this rock, provisionally named N165, and analyzing the glowing, ionized gas, called plasma, that the laser excites. The instrument will analyze that spark with a telescope and identify the chemical elements in the target.

of 11

The N165 'Coronation' target

This close-up image shows a rock known as N165 or "Coronation," the first target NASA's Curiosity rover blasted with its laser pulse from the ChemCam instrument.

of 11

Glad you asked

ChemCam fires an invisible laser, depicted here as the solid green line, in a series of pulses at a target rock. Electrons within the target then become excited, decay, and emit light, resulting in a flash of light visible to the human eye.

ChemCam receives this light, depicted as the dashed green line, with the built-in telescope and analyzes it with a spectrometer, which identifies the types of atoms within the target. ChemCam can distinguish different elements in the target sample because each chemical element has its own unique light signature.

Updated:Caption:Photo:J-L. Lacour/CEA/French Space Agency
of 11

Curiosity's 'head'

This view of Curiosity's "head" shows 7 of the 17 cameras on the rover. Two pairs of Navigation cameras (Navcams) are the small circular apertures on either side of the head. On the top are the optics of the Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) investigation, which includes a laser and a telescopic camera.

The Mast Camera (MastCam) instrument includes a 100-millimeter-focal-length camera called MastCam-100, or M-100, and a 34-millimeter-focal-length camera called the MastCam-34, or M-34. The two cameras of the MastCam are both scientific and natural color imaging systems. The M-100 looks through a 1.2-inch baffle aperture, and the M-34 looks through a 2.1-inch baffle aperture.

of 11

Detector for one of ChemCam’s spectrometers

The detector assembly for one of ChemCam’s three spectrometers is shown prior to final installation in January 2010. The light-sensitive portion of the detector reflects a rainbow of colors owing to a special coating that optimizes the light collection.

Updated:Caption:Photo:Roger Wiens, LANL
of 11

ChemCam calibration

This image highlights the calibration target for the Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument on NASA's Curiosity rover. The calibration target is one square and a group of nine colored circles. The materials used in these circles are the types of materials scientists anticipated they might encounter on Mars. The square is a titanium alloy with a painted edge.

of 11

ChemCam calibration target

This image shows the calibration target for the Chemistry and Camera instrument on NASA's Curiosity rover before it was installed on the rover and readied for launch.

The target includes nine circles of materials scientists expect to see on Mars and one titanium square with a painted edge. The circles in the top row show four glass samples likely to represent Mars igneous rock compositions, plus a graphite rod on the right side. The bottom row shows four ceramic samples representing Mars sedimentary rock compositions and a titanium plate for wavelength calibration and laser diagnostic tests.

of 11

Laser identification

Different elements, such as aluminum and copper, and rock types, like basalt, give off their own color of light when zapped by a laser.

Unlike previous missions to Mars, which required the rather laborious and time-consuming task of approaching a rock, brushing away dust, and grinding away outer layers to take a measurement of the composition, ChemCam’s laser removes the need to physically touch the rock. It allows ChemCam to determine a rock’s composition from a distance of up to 7 meters On average, the ChemCam team expects to take approximately one dozen compositional measurements of rocks per day.

Updated:Caption:Photo:Sirven et al., JAAS
of 11

Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectrometer

As the name implies, ChemCam is actually two different instruments combined as one: a Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectrometer (LIBS) and a Remote Micro Imager (RMI). The purpose of the LIBS instrument is to provide elemental compositions of rock and soil, while the RMI will give ChemCam scientists high-resolution images of the sampling areas of the rocks and soil that LIBS targets. The telescope is seen here located on the right side of the unit in the lab prior to launch.

of 11

ChemCam body unit

The Body Unit, seen here, houses the remote sensing spectroscopy instrument called the Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectrometer (LIBS), the power buffer, and a data processing unit.

The ChemCam spectrometers consist of three separate units covering 240 to 336 nanometer, 380 to 470 nanometer, and 470 to 850 nanometer spectral ranges. At more than 10 megawatts per square millimeter, the ChemCam omits the energy of 1 million light bulbs focused in a spot a little bigger than a pinhole.

of 11
Up Next

Meet the Stratolaunch, the world's largest airplane