Using a rapid-fire laser and telescope instrument called ChemCam, Mars rover Curiosity zaps its 'Coronation' rock, creating sparks of ionized gas that will be used to measure the rock's chemical contents.
NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has zapped its first rock in what scientists elatedly declare a successful test of ChemCam, a laser-and-telescope combo designed to uncover the chemical composition of rocks on the Red Planet.
The instrument is set to play a key role in helping scientists fill in Curiosity's rock-hunting agenda over the next two years.
"After eight years building the instrument, it's payoff time!" said Roger Wiens, a physicist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in Los Alamos, N.M., and the instrument's lead scientist, in a statement.
The rover's broad mission is to search for clues that might show whether Gale Crater and its three-mile-high summit, Mt. Sharp, hosted an environment hospitable for life some 3 billion to 4 billion years ago. Those clues, if they exist, hide in the chemical make-up of the rocks and soils at Curiosity's new home – especially rocks in the layered foothills of Mt. Sharp, the rover's ultimate destination.