NASA's science rover Curiosity zaps first Martian rock

By REUTERS
August 20, 2012 04:16

 
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LOS ANGELES - The Mars rover Curiosity zapped its first rock on Sunday with a high-powered laser gun designed to analyze Martian mineral content, and scientists declared their target practice a success.

The robotic science lab aimed its laser beam at the fist-sized stone nearby and shot the rock with 30 pulses over a 10-second period, NASA said in a statement issued from mission control at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Los Angeles.

Each pulse delivers more than 1 million watts of energy for about five one-billionths of a second, vaporizing a pinhead-sized bit of the rock to create a tiny spark, which is analyzed by a small telescope mounted on the instrument.

The ionized glow, which can be observed and recorded from up to 25 feet (7 meters) away, is then split into its component wavelengths by three spectrometers that give scientists information about the chemical makeup of the target rock.

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