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U.S.-French Laser On Mars Rover Tops 100,000 Zaps

Published on 07 December 2013

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Washington, D.C.

NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover
NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has passed the milestone of 100,000 shots fired by its laser. It uses the laser as one way to check which chemical elements are in rocks and soils.

The 100,000th shot (shown above in an artist’s conception) was one of a series of 300 to investigate 10 locations on a rock called Ithaca in late October. The rock was 4.04 meters from the laser on the rover’s mast. Each pulse delivers more than a million watts of power for about five one-billionths of a second.

The Chemistry and Camera instrument (ChemCam) uses the infrared laser to excite material in a pinhead-size spot on the target into a glowing, ionized gas, called plasma. ChemCam observes that spark with its telescope and analyzes the spectrum of light to identify elements in the target.

“Passing 100,000 laser shots is terribly exciting and is providing a remarkable set of chemical data for Mars,” said ChemCam co-investigator Horton Newsom of the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque.

An international team of scientists and students is mining information from ChemCam to document the diversity of materials on the surface of Mars and the geological processes that formed them.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Los Alamos National Laboratory at Los Alamos, New Mexico, developed ChemCam in partnership with scientists and engineers funded by the French national space agency, CNES, the University of Toulouse and research agency CNRS. The laser was built by Thales, Paris. More information about ChemCam is available on its website.



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Posted 2013-12-07 13:30:00