Curiosity ‘interrogates’ Martian rock with laser

Updated 9:29 AM EDT, Tue August 21, 2012

Story highlights

It's the first time such a powerful laser has been used on another planet

Curiosity's laser blasts a fist-sized rock 30 times in 10 seconds

"We can expect great science from investigating what might be thousands of targets," scientist says

Curiosity began a two-year mission on Mars on August 6

(CNN) —  

The Mars Curiosity rover used its laser to “interrogate” a Martian rock Sunday in what NASA said was “target practice” for future experiments.

It was the first time such a powerful laser has been used on another planet and comes two weeks after the mobile science lab touched down on Mars.

A fist-sized rock dubbed “Coronation” – or Martian rock N165 for scientists keeping count – was zapped 30 times over 10 seconds with 14 millijoules of energy in each pulse, NASA said.

“Each pulse delivers more than a million watts of power for about five one-billionths of a second,” a NASA statement said.

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Curiosity’s ChemCam, short for Chemistry and Camera, recorded the resulting glowing, ionized gas in an effort to identify chemical elements in the rock, which was about 10 feet away.

Sylvestre Maurice, the ChemCam deputy project scientist watching at the Institut de Recherche en Astrophysique et Planetologie in Toulouse, France, called the quality of the information gathered “surprising.”

“It’s so rich, we can expect great science from investigating what might be thousands of targets with ChemCam in the next two years,” Maurice said.

ChemCam “got a great spectrum” to analyze, said Roger Wiens of the Los Alamos National Laboratory. “Our team is both thrilled and working hard, looking at the results. After eight years building the instrument, it’s payoff time!”