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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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RE: The Rebel Rock Is Within Range
By TSS on 8/20/2012 1:57:49 PM , Rating: 3
It's also a fallacy to outright dismiss something based on previous conceptions which aren't all that solid yet.

We have no clear idea of when the marian atmosphere completly evaporated. And even when it did, that doesn't mean oceans dry up inmediantly. They will eventually, but microbial life might very well form before that time.

And proving there once was life on mars, however small, is pretty significant. Goes a long way to *proving* the universe is teeming with life. I mean there's a good chance the universe is filled with life but i'd like to see proof of that within my lifetime. It'd be very convenient if the planet next door is able to offer that.

Mind you i don't think the rover will find it. If there is any, it'll probably be buried underground in a few layers deeper then we'd find dinosaurs. Anything on the surface has been sandblasted by martian sandstorms for hundreds of millions of years. Even if there was a battlestar galactica type plot where humans actually came from mars and we once had huge beautifull cities there, we'd still have to dig really deep to find any trace of it.

Lasers are cool and all. But i think life won't be found untill we get to it with a good ol' fashioned shovel.

RE: The Rebel Rock Is Within Range
By Jaybus on 8/24/2012 2:17:40 PM , Rating: 2
Why do you think they go down into craters? At the bottom of a crater, you only have to drill sideways a little to get at the layers millions of years old. A nice space rock did most of the digging for them.

How would you find microbes with a shovel? Even on Earth we have to have instruments to find the microbes in soil samples. I understand the need for the laser-induced flouescence instrument to examine composition of materials, but why not a plain old light microscope that can send images back to Earth for examination by microbiologists, etc? The LIF instrument can see that there are organic molecules, but can't see the forest for the trees.

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