NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity has fired its 100,000th laser shot on Mars, a milestone in its mission to determine what rocks on the Red Planet are made of.

The ChemCam laser instrument aboard Curiosity rover zaps rocks with a high-powered laser to determine their composition and carries a camera that can survey the Martian landscape.

“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,” said Roger Wiens, Los Alamos National Laboratory planetary scientist and Principal Investigator of the ChemCam.

Curiosity landed on Mars at the edge of Gale Crater near the base of Mount Sharp on August 6, 2012.

The rover is a rolling laboratory about the size of a small SUV that will roam the Martian landscape for at least another year in search of clues about the planet’s habitability.

Using a suite of 10 instruments that can perform diverse and amazing tasks ranging from digging up and baking soil samples, to shooting rocks with pinpoint accuracy with a high-powered laser, Curiosity already 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.

Curiosity’s laser instrument, ChemCam, fires a short laser burst that packs the wallop of nearly one million light bulbs into a single pinpoint of light to vaporise rock and dust.

A camera aboard the instrument reads the spectral signature of the resultant flash and translates the information into the composition of whatever happened to be in ChemCam’s crosshairs at the moment.

(This article was published on December 8, 2013)
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