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Laser Instrument on NASA Mars Rover Tops 100,000 Zaps
December 4, 2013

NASA's Curiosity Mars rover has passed the milestone of 100,000 shots fired by its laser. It uses the laser as one way to check which chemical elements are in rocks and soils.
The 100,000th shot was one of a series of 300 to investigate 10 locations on a rock called "Ithaca" in late October, at a distance of 13 feet, 3 inches (4.04 meters) from the laser and telescope on rover's mast. The Chemistry and Camera instrument (ChemCam) uses the infrared laser to excite material in a pinhead-size spot on the target into a glowing, ionized gas, called plasma. ChemCam observes that spark with the telescope and analyzes the spectrum of light to identify elements in the target.

"Passing 100,000 laser shots is terribly exciting and is providing a remarkable set of chemical data for Mars," said ChemCam co-investigator Horton Newsom of the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque.

As of the start of December, ChemCam has fired its laser on Mars more than 102,000 times, at more than 420 rock or soil targets. Virtually every shot yields a spectrum of data returned to Earth. Most targets get zapped at several points with 30 laser pulses at each point. The instrument has also returned more than 1,600 images taken by its remote micro-imager camera.

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Target for 100,000th Laser Shot by Curiosity on Mars
December 4, 2013

This mosaic of images from ChemCam's remote micro-imager camera show the rock, called "Ithaca," that received the 100,000th zapping, and 299 others. The scale bar at upper right is 1 centimeter (0.4 inch). The target was 13 feet, 3 inches (4.04 meters) from the top of Curiosity's mast, where the laser and remote micro-imager are mounted, when the rock was inspected during the 439th Martian day, or sol, of the rover's work on Mars (Oct. 30, 2013).

The image shows scars from the 10 laser-targeted points labeled from point 1 to point 10. Each observation point received 30 laser shots. One of the 30 shots at point 1 was the 100,000th firing of the ChemCam laser. The vertical line of 10 points examined by ChemCam on Ithaca starts in a pitted lower coarser grained layer and crosses into a finer grained, smoother, upper layer. The chemical composition of the two layers appears to be very similar.

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Curiosity and MAVEN Explore Mars
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This animation first shows Curiosity working to understand Mars as a past habitat, with a cut to MAVEN arriving at Mars to study the upper Martian atmosphere. Curiosity will not be able to 'see' MAVEN on its arrival. Later in the mission, Curiosity may be able to view MAVEN when its orbit passes over Gale Crater at dusk, similar to viewing a low-earth-orbiting (LEO) satellite around Earth.

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