Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A rover with a friggin laser attached to its head

Oh neat. The Mars Curiosity Rover has a laser on it that vaporizes rocks.

Artist rendition via Wired

The laser is part of an instrument called ChemCam, which includes a Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectrometer (LIBS) which breaks down objects by blasting the fuck out of it with a focused laser beam, and a Remote Micro-Imager (RMI), which detects the spectral signals of the blasted material. The idea is different elements have different spectral signals (i.e. wavelength, i.e. color), and you can examine the spectral output (colors emitted) to determine the nature of the rock.

The "laser blast" is actually a process called laser ablation.  Laser ablation at low power densities causes the blasted material to melt and evaporate, but at high power densities, such as the ChemCam system, the blasted material is converted into a plasma -- an ionized gas that emits light.

Read more about ChemCam at NASA and The Guardian.  There is a less technical summary of all the instruments over at Wired.


Added 8/30: ChemCam updates via Wired.

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