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Curiosity Zaps Rocks with Laser

Ever since the Curiosity Mars rover landed on the red planet, we've been waiting for it to do something really cool.

By Michael Trei
|  Monday, Aug 20, 2012  |  Updated 7:32 PM PDT
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Curiosity Zaps Rocks with Laser

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Ever since the Curiosity Mars rover landed on the red planet, we've been waiting for it to do something really cool. Sure it's been up there snapping away with its cameras like a tourist, but now it has unleashed its mighty ChemCam laser, and started shooting a nearby rock.

The tennis-ball-sized rock, dubbed Coronation, was used essentially for target practice to make sure that the ChemCam's systems were all working properly. Once NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory gets all of Curiosity's gear calibrated, the ChemCam will move on to analyzing all kinds of Martian stuff.

For the test, the laser hit the rock with 30 pulses of infrared light, each just five-billionths-of-a-second long, but packing a million watts of power. As the hits blasted away at the surface of Coronation, a spectrometer recorded the color of the sparks generated so that scientists back on Earth can analyze the spectrum to determine the chemical composition of the rock and its covering dust.

After they learn what they can from zapping Coronation, they plan to turn the laser towards the gouges left in the Martian surface during the landing. Like everything else near the rover, they too have been given names, specifically Burnside, Goulburn, Hepburn and Sleepy Dragon. While Hepburn sounds like it might have been the best looking, it looks like Goulburn is scheduled to be the next zapee.

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