Nasa’s red planet rover Curiosity has zapped its first Martian rock.
The robot fired the fist-sized rock, named ‘Coronation’, with 30 pulses of its laser on Sunday. The technique was used to discover the elements in the space pebble.
Each pulse delivers more than a million watts of power for about five one-billionths of a second. The lasers turn the rock into a glowing plasma and then catch the light from that spark with a telescope. Finally the spark is analysed with three spectrometers.
Spectrometers allow scientists to detect energy invisible to human eyes to find out the composition of rock.
ChemCam Principal Investigator Roger Wiens said the team was "thrilled" with the results:
"We got a great spectrum of Coronation - lots of signal. After eight years building the instrument, it's payoff time!"
This is the first time the laser-pulsing technique (called “laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy”) has ever been used in space. Previously it had only been used inside nuclear reactors and on the sea bed.
Coronation was selected as target practice for the robot's 'ChemCam' due to its smooth flat surface.
The Curiosity Rover's real mission is to investigate whether life could have existed on Mars.
It landed on Mars’ Gale Crater two weeks ago, beginning its two-year mission to see whether a carefully chosen study area inside the crater has ever offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life.
The mission's Chemistry and Camera instrument, or ChemCam is one of the 10 instruments which will be used to gather this data.