Mars rover Curiosity fired its laser on Monday for the first time on the Red Planet to probe a chemical composition of a fist-size rock, NASA said.
“The mission's Chemistry and Camera instrument, or ChemCam, hit the fist-sized rock with 30 pulses of its laser during a 10-second period,” NASA said in a brief report on its website.
The ChemCam instrument package consists of two remote sensing instruments: the first planetary science Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectrometer (LIBS) and a Remote Micro-Imager (RMI).
“The goal of this initial use of the laser on Mars was to serve as target practice for characterizing the instrument, but the activity may provide additional value,” the report said.
According to NASA, “the technique used by ChemCam, called laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy, has been used to determine composition of targets in other extreme environments, such as inside nuclear reactors and on the sea floor, and has had experimental applications in environmental monitoring and cancer detection.”
Curiosity landed on Mars on August 6, beginning a two-year mission using 10 instruments to assess whether the distant planet has ever offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life.
Before the Mars rover embarks on a 7-km (4.3-mile) journey to its primary target - the foot of Mount Sharp on the floor of Gale Crater, NASA scientists plan to send it out on a shorter trek to a spot about 400 meters (1,300 feet) from its landing site.
The first drive to a rock formation called Glenelg, which is at the nexus of three different types of terrain, may take as long as 45 days, NASA said.