Curiosity fires up its laser and zaps first rock

Image of first rock, called Coronation, to be targeted by Curiosity’s laser. The circular inset image of the rock is before the laser firing, while the square inset image is of the small hole in the rock after. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/CNES/IRAP

The Curiosity rover just fired its laser for the first time yesterday, targeting a small nearby rock, primarily as “target practice.” Is Curiosity on the attack? No, the laser is for scientific purposes only, as it vapourizes a small amount of rock; the dust created can then be analyzed by other instruments to determine its composition.

That may not sound as exciting as a “War of the Worlds” in reverse, but it’s still a laser nonetheless and will help in the exploration of the rich geology in Gale crater where Curiosity has landed. With massive sedimentary layers and alluvial fans created by water a long time ago, this area is a geologist’s dream.

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