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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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By maugrimtr on 8/21/2012 10:40:21 AM , Rating: 1
It's not simply existing life (even they must know that close to impossible) but past life. Mars once had more atmosphere, it was warmer and it had liquid water on or close to the surface. In other words, it was somewhat close to Earth at points in its evolution. That raises the probability of life existing, at some point, on Mars.

Their real challenge is using geology to locate the impact that life should have had in the rock record. Something we have a lot of experience with here on Earth.

Incidentally, this is the first mission to Mars for this specific purpose. The twin explorers were sent to establish whether liquid water existing on Mars (the rovers located evidence of this long ago). As such, we've literally only scratched the surface of Mars


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