The NASA Mars Curiosity rover. (Photo : NASA)
Everybody on Earth is excited about the stream of photographs from NASA's Mars Curiosity Rover. NASA scientists, however, are just as, if not more, excited about different photographs: close-ups of rocks. NASA has officially give the rover the go ahead to begin using its sophisticated ChemCam.
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The ChemCam aboard the Curiosity rover is a combination of an incredibly high-resolution camera and a laser. The camera can capture a human hair from seven feet away, and the laser can blast rock and sediment from 23 feet away to determine its composition.
"Following the fantastic landing of Curiosity on Mars, ChemCam proceeded with an aliveness test within an hour of landing," said Roger Wiens, principal investigator of the ChemCam team.
"This was essentially the same routine as performed five months earlier in the middle of its cruise (to Mars). We are giving the all-clear from our perspective to raise the (rover) mast on Sol 2. All systems are go!"
The rover landed in the Gale crater, which has the ChemCam team excited to use its tools to begin digging into Martian history.
"The idea is that the gravel we're seeing is alluvium coming down from the rim of the crater," he said. "The alluvium from the rim is potentially more ancient than Mount Sharp."
This same alluvium could hold up to a billion years of geological data about Mars.
The ChemCam team also plans on studying rock varnish, and whether it has any links to life.
"Rock varnish on Earth is not clearly understood," Ph.D. researcher Nina Lanza said. "It's not yet certain whether a biological component is necessary for its formation."
The laser on the ChemCam allows the rover to gently blast away at the varnish and surrounding layers to get to the actual, pristine rock below.