Curiosity sparks more interest on Mars

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  • Published: Jul 23, 2014
  • Author: Steve Down
  • Channels: Raman / MRI Spectroscopy / Chemometrics & Informatics / NMR Knowledge Base / X-ray Spectrometry / Atomic / Proteomics / UV/Vis Spectroscopy / Infrared Spectroscopy / Base Peak
thumbnail image: Curiosity sparks more interest on Mars

The Curiosity rover, which is currently crossing the surface of Mars towards Mount Sharp, has performed another first by capturing the spark emitted from a rock when it was hit with the laser aboard the ChemCam instrument. This has not been observed before. The spark can be seen clearly on an image posted by NASA, who have also made available a video prepared from a series of successive images which were taken at the rate of five per second.

ChemCam, one of the suite of the instruments on Curiosity, is designed to vaporise layers from the surfaces of interesting rocks on Mars and analyse the resulting plasma with a spectrograph to determine the elemental composition. This rock, named Nova by the science team, was found to be rich in silicon, aluminium and sodium, which is typical of the rocks found on this journey so far.

"This is so exciting! The ChemCam laser has fired more than 150,000 times on Mars, but this is the first time we see the plasma plume that is created," said ChemCam Deputy Principal Investigator Sylvestre Maurice, who is based in France.

The news follows closely on the discovery of an iron meteorite about 2m long, which was given the name Lebanon. This type of meteorite is the most common on Mars, possibly because they erode slowly under Martian conditions.

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