Curiosity’s laser turns a Martian rock to ionized, glowing plasma

Technology News Blog

No matter what you did this weekend, we're willing to bet that NASA scientists did something cooler. What's that, you say? You got to spend a relaxing day at the beach? Fun camping trip with the kids? Forget all of that — this weekend, scientists working with the Curiosity Mars rover converted an ordinary red planet rock into a glowing mass of plasma in the name of science.

The act was completed by ChemCam, the super-powerful laser instrument attached to Curiosity. A rock called Coronation (formerly named N165) was the target, blasted with 30 individual pulses of laser over the course of 10 seconds. Each individual pulse delivers over a million watts of power.

The amount of power delivered by the laser turned Coronation into plasma. Scientists then analyzed the light coming from the rock plasma to determine its exact composition. The process is called laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy, and its the first time its ever been used off planet Earth.

According to NASA, this weekend's ChemCam experiment went better than expected. Says ChemCam Deputy Project Scientist Sylvestre Maurice, "it's surprising that the data are even better than we ever had during tests on Earth, in signal-to-noise ratio. It's so rich, we can expect great science from investigating what might be thousands of targets with ChemCam in the next two years."

This article was written by Fox Van Allen and originally appeared on Tecca

More from Tecca: