Curiosity rover laser zaps Martian rock

August 20, 2012 by Amara D. Angelica

ChemCam (Credit: NASA JPL)

NASA has launched the first interplanetary war by attacking Mars with a high-power laser beam for “target practice.” Some are blaming the “mohawk guy” at JPL, shown in disguise in this NASA photo.¬†No word if Mars plans to return fire….

OK, we admit, it’s a remote spectroscopy¬†experiment to determine the¬†composition of a rock curiously called “Coronation.” The energy from the laser excites atoms in the rock into an ionized, glowing plasma, NASA said. ChemCam catches the light from that spark with a telescope and analyzes it with three spectrometers for information about what elements are in the target.

Curiosity hit the fist-sized rock with 30 pulses of its laser during a 10-second period. Each pulse delivers more than a million watts of power for about five one-billionths of a second. (Credit: NASA JPL)