NASA's Curiosity Rover got its first chance to fire its ChemCam laser at a rock laying about 2.5 m away from the rover. The rock Curiosity used it to laser on is about 7 cm wide, roughly the size of a tennis ball and has been dubbed Coronation rock. The powerful laser burst from Curiosity vaporized the surface of the rock revealing details of the rocks basic chemistry.
The laser blast was target practice for ChemCam helping operators to ensure that Curiosity and its frickin' laser beam is ready for the real work of investigating the geology of Mars. The main goal of Curiosity as it roams around the red planet on its year-long main mission will be to help determine if Mars could've ever harbored life. The ChemCam laser was developed in cooperation between the US and France and is a very critical part for Curiosity's investigation.
The Coronation rock was previously called N165. This rock was chosen seemingly for no other reason that it was large and nearby. This rock has no particular science value and is a simple chunk of Martian basalt volcanic rock. Curiosity shot the rock with 30 pulses of infrared laser light during a 10 second span.
Each laser burst blasted a tiny spot on the surface of the rock with over 1,000,000 W of power for five billionths of a second. The ChemCam laser used its telescopic lens to view the component colors released by the laser bursts to determine the atomic elements present in the rock. The scientists report, "We got a great spectrum of Coronation - lots of signal." The first scientific target for Curiosity and its laser will be exposed bedrock on the ground next to Curiosity that was uncovered by the rover's rocket-powered landing crane that help it land safely on the surface of the red planet.
[via BBC News]