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Curiosity Rover Bores Holes in Mars Soil with Laser Beam

Enlarge Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/ CNES/IRAP/LPGN/CNRS MORE IMAGES

For the ChemCam on NASA’s Curiosity rover on Mars, a spot marks the spot.

ChemCam, a multitalented instrument for remotely analyzing Martian rocks and soils, fires a laser at targets up to seven meters away to determine their chemical composition. The brief laser shots pack quite a wallop—each five-nanosecond laser pulse delivers a megawatt of power, which suffices to turn a tiny region of rock or soil into glowing, ionized gas, or plasma.

ChemCam’s 110-millimeter telescope then takes in light from the laser-excited plasma and routes it to a suite of spectrometers for analysis. The spectrometers can assess the composition of the sample by parsing individual wavelengths of light in the plasma, each of which is characteristic of a different chemical element.

Above is a before-and-after series from a ChemCam analysis of a patch of soil called Beechey. Each of the fields of view is about eight centimeters across, and the five laser-bored spots in the right image are each two to four millimeters wide. The holes were carved out by a sequence of 50 laser pulses apiece from a distance of about 3.5 meters.

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