NASA today officially announced that Mars rover Curiosity has fired its infrared laser more than 102,000 times. The 100,000th blast came back near the end of October, when the rover shot over 300 blasts at a rock named "Ithaca" from a distance of over four meters. Curiosity has now blasted over 420 different Martian targets using its laser.
"Passing 100,000 laser shots is terribly exciting and is providing a remarkable set of chemical data for Mars," said Horton Newsom, ChemCam co-investigator and a senior research sceintist at the Institute of Meteoritics at the University of New Mexico.
Researchers use the laser to blast a small spot on Martian rocks, creating an ionized gas that can be analyzed with Curiosity's Chemistry and Camera instrument to determine the chemical make-up of the sample. According to NASA, the laser is used to blast targets with 30 pulses, which creates a pinhead-sized marking. Each blast lasts for only five one-billionths of a second and delivers more than one million watts.
Curiosity is currently back on-track for a months-long journey to the base of a Martian mountain named Mount Sharp. There researchers are hoping to compare exposed rock layers to the geology already observed near the rover's landing site.
The rover's progress last month was stymied by two separate incidents that cause the rover's science operations to be temporarily suspended. In early November Curiosity experienced a software glitch that caused an unexpected reboot. Just days after having the issue corrected, the rover experienced a "soft short" that lowered its operating voltage significantly.
(Image courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems)