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Curiosity Surpasses 100,000 Laser Zaps

LOS ALAMOS, N.M., Dec. 9, 2013 — The laser instrument aboard NASA’s Curiosity rover has surpassed its 100,000th shot on Mars, the space agency reported last week.

Designed to fire 1 million shots, the ChemCam zaps rocks and dust with a high-power laser to determine their composition. It also carries a camera that can survey the Martian landscape. So far, however, no Martians have been observed.


This artist's concept depicts the rover Curiosity, of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission, as it uses its Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument to investigate the composition of a rock surface. The system uses a laser to take samples from as far as 23 feet away from the Curiosity rover. Courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech.


“ChemCam has greatly exceeded our expectations,” said Roger Wiens, Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) planetary scientist and principal investigator of the ChemCam team. “The information we’ve gleaned from the instrument will continue to enhance our understanding of the Red Planet and will nicely complement information from the other nine instruments aboard Curiosity as we continue our odyssey to Mount Sharp,” the mission’s main destination.


ChemCam Remote Micro Imager (RMI) image of the target ‘Ithaca.’ The image is a mosaic of three separate images taken on Sol 439, with the scale as shown. The image shows the scars from the 10 LIBS points labeled from point 1 to 10. One of the 30 shots at point 1 was the 100,000th firing of the ChemCam laser. The distance to the target from the ChemCam telescope at the top of the mast was 4.04 m. The vertical line of 10 points taken by ChemCam on Ithaca starts in a pitted, lower, coarser-grained unit and crosses into a finer-grained, smoother upper unit. The chemical composition appears to be very similar between units. Courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/CNES/IRAP. 


Curiosity landed on Mars at the edge of Gale Crater near the base of Mount Sharp on Aug. 6, 2012. The rover is a rolling laboratory about the size of a small SUV that will roam Mars for at least another year in search of clues about the planet’s habitability. ChemCam is one of a suite of 10 instruments on the rover that can perform diverse tasks. So far, Curiosity has helped show scientists that Mars apparently once had a very wet history and still retains enough moisture in its dust and rocks to quench the thirst of future astronauts.


The averaged spectrum of point 1 from the target Ithaca, which includes data from the 100,000th laser shot by ChemCam. This spectrum is typical of Martian volcanic (basaltic) material, from which the sediments in Gale are derived, with a standard major element suite of Si, Mg, Al, Ca, Na, K, O and Ti. There is an enrichment in Fe (>20% FeO) and Ti (>1% TiO2). Chromium and Mn (not shown) are also present. Courtesy of Los Alamos National Laboratory. 


The ChemCam concept was developed at LANL, but the instrument aboard Curiosity is a partnership between Los Alamos and the French national space agency, Centre National d’etudes Spatiales (CNES) and the research agency Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS).

More information on Curiosity’s travels can be found at www.nasa.gov/msl. A slide show of images can be found at www.msl-chemcam.com.




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