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.
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
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 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.