One of the most anticipated steps in the instrument checkout on NASA’s Curiosity rover is the first use of Curiosity’s laser on a Martian rock, and this past weekend, Curiosity set its target on a 3-inch rock about 9 feet away from the rover. Originally designated N165, the rock has been given the name “Coronation.”
The main goal of the test was to check the pointing of the imager and operation of the laser. The laser fired 30 short bursts at the rock over 10 seconds. With each burst the Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument recorded the spectrum of light given off as a pinhead size spot on “Coronation” is vaporized. A spectrometer on board the rover is used to determine the abundance of elements in the vaporized sample. Each successive laser burst went ever so slightly deeper into the rock.
Scientists are now analyzing the data to see whether elemental abundances changed with depth. Mission controllers will now begin to use ChemCam as part of the science mission. The first science targets will likely be in an area of bedrock (recently named Goulburn Scour) that was exposed by the descent rockets of the Lander.
It takes a long time to position the rover and command its robotic arm to place a particular instrument in contact with a rock or soil sample. An analysis with the ChemCam and its laser can be done in much less time. ChemCam will be a great help in rapidly selecting the most scientifically important targets for study by the rover’s other instruments.
Let the targeting begin!