Curiosity Vaporises Rocks With Its Nuclear-Powered Laser

By Sam Gibbs on at

NASA's only just got to Mars, well, for the third time, but it's already started shooting up the place. Curiosity let the Martian rock feel the wrath of her 1 million watt laser, vaporising the thing and any aliens that got in her way*.

The massive, nuclear-powered rover fired 30 laser blasts over a 10-second period to turn the rock into glowing, ionised plasma. The light emitted by the blasted atoms in the rock was then recorded by three different spectrometers as part of the ChemCam system, which should tell us what the elemental composition of the Martian rock is.

NASA now has to sit back and analyse the data to see what the rock's made of -- a feat eight years in the making. This first rock targeting was really just a test of Curiosity's laser and ChemCam system -- the real science will start when it gets to something slightly more interesting than just a rock -- but it passed with flying colours, which is a pretty good thing considering the nearest technician is some 225 million km away. [Wired]

*Erm, probably not true, unless NASA's covering something up.