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  (Source: Jean-Luc Lacour)

"The area shown in the circular inset is 6 centimeters (2.4 inches) in diameter. It was taken before the rock was hit with the laser. The area covered in the further-magnified square inset is 8 millimeters (about one-third of an inch) across"  (Source: NASA)
The zap was used as a test for Curiosity's laser before the real traveling begins

NASA Mars rover Curiosity has zapped its first rock since landing on the Red Planet, marking the beginning of its two-year expedition to find signs of life. 
 
Curiosity used its laser just yesterday to explore its first rock since its arrival on Mars. The rock, called "Coronation," was fist-sized and used as a test for Curiosity's instruments before the true journey begins.
 
Curiosity was able to do this using the Chemistry and Camera, or ChemCam. The ChemCam combines a few different instruments, including the laser and a camera
 
Curiosity's ChemCam hit Coronation with its laser for 10 seconds using 30 pulses. Each pulse offers over a million watts of power for five one-billionths of a second, causing the atoms in the rock to become glowing plasma. Curiosity was able to catch this glow as well, and analyzed it with three spectrometers to see what elements are contained. 
 
Curiosity also used a Navigation Camera for additional shots of the zapping. Between the Navigation Camera and ChemCam's camera, the Mars rover was able to obtain a few before-and-after photos of Coronation.
 
Curiosity is a $2.5 billion Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) that has six wheels and is about the size of a Mini Cooper. It landed safely on Mars earlier this month after launching from Cape Canaveral, Florida on November 26, 2011. Now, Curiosity and its tool bag (a weather station, a large robot arm, a percussive drill, a laser and 4.8kg of plutonium-238) will spend two years exploring the Red Planet in an effort to find any signs of life. 

Sources: NASA, Jean-Luc Lacour





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