World Bulletin / News Desk
The Mars rover Curiosity zapped its first rock on Sunday with a high-powered laser gun designed to analyze Martian mineral content, and scientists declared their target practice a success.
The robotic science lab aimed its laser beam at the fist-sized stone nearby and shot the rock with 30 pulses over a 10-second period, NASA said in a statement issued from mission control at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Los Angeles.
Each pulse delivers more than 1 million watts of energy for about five one-billionths of a second, vaporizing a pinhead-sized bit of the rock to create a tiny spark, which is analyzed by a small telescope mounted on the instrument.
The ionized glow, which can be observed and recorded from up to 25 feet (7 meters) away, is then split into its component wavelengths by three spectrometers that give scientists information about the chemical makeup of the target rock.
The combined system, called the Chemistry-and-Camera instrument, or ChemCam, is capable of discerning more than 6,000 different wavelengths in the ultraviolet, infrared and visible light spectrum and is designed to take about 14,000 measurements throughout Curiosity's Mars mission.
The purpose of Sunday's initial use of the laser, conducted at roughly 3 a.m. Pacific time (1100 GMT), was as "target practice" for the instrument. But scientists will examine the data they receive to determine composition of the rock, which they dubbed "Coronation," NASA said.
"We got a great spectrum of Coronation - lots of signal," said ChemCam principal investigator Roger Wiens of the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, where the instrument was developed. "After eight years of building the instrument, it's payoff time."
Curiosity, a one-ton, six-wheeled vehicle the size of a compact car, landed inside a vast, ancient impact crater near Mars' equator on Aug. 6 after an eight-month, 354-million-mile voyage through space. Its two-year mission is aimed at determining whether or not the planet most like Earth could have hosted microbial life.
The rover's primary target is Mount Sharp, a towering mound of layered rock rising from the floor of Gale Crater. But mission controllers are gradually checking out Curiosity's sophisticated array of instruments before sending it on its first road trip across the Martian landscape.
The $2.5 billion Curiosity project marks NASA's first astrobiology mission since the Viking probes to Mars during the 1970s and the most advanced robotic science lab sent to another world.
The technique employed by ChemCam has been used to examine the composition of materials in other extreme environments, such as inside nuclear reactors and on the sea floor.
The technology also has experimental applications in environmental monitoring and cancer detection. But Sunday's exercise, conducted during Curiosity's 13th full day on Mars, was the first use in interplanetary exploration, NASA said.
Before Curiosity embarks on its 4.3-mile (7-km) trek to the foot of Mount Sharp, a journey that could take six months, mission controllers plan to send it out on a shorter jaunt to a spot 1,600 feet (500 meters) from its landing site.
Israeli military concerned game could lead to locations and images of military bases being leaked
AG600 developed for use in emergency operations has max cruising speed of 500 km per hour, max flight range of 4,500 km
Vast quantities of rare gas hint at Earth’s past, could power planet’s future
Global temperatures at record highs; Arctic sea ice levels at record lows
23-year-old researcher to create computer models of brain structures in world's largest particle physics laboratory
New mobile game already used by 5 percent of Android users in US
The $180m radio telescope with size of 30 football fields is expected to be operational by September, state media says.
The 41st Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) Scientific Assembly will take place between July 30 and August 7 at the Istanbul Congress Center
India launches largest successful satellite mission as it continues focus on space reseach
Court-ordered payout comes on same day company pulls fake refugee rescue app
Driverless minibus called Olli, capable of carrying up to 12 people, released by IBM and Local Motors
Popular social media network Twitter has broken, with the network's website and mobile apps inaccessible for users worldwide
In April, Germany officially announced a new incentive and investment program to accelerate the adoption of electric cars in the country.
Findings based on laser technology challenge previous theories on urban, water systems around temple complexes
With clean energy, ‘you can reconcile ecology and economy’, says Solar Impulse navigator