Mars 2020’s mast, or “head,” includes a laser instrument called SuperCam that can vaporize rock material and study the resulting plasma. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
NASA is sending a new laser-toting robot to Mars. But unlike the lasers of science fiction, this one is used for studying mineralogy and chemistry from up to about 20 feet (7 meters) away. It might help scientists find signs of fossilized microbial life on the Red Planet, too.
One of seven instruments aboard the Mars 2020 rover that launches this summer, SuperCam was built by a team of hundreds and packs what would typically require several sizable pieces of equipment into something no bigger than a cereal box. It fires a pulsed laser beam out of the rover’s mast, or “head,” to vaporize small portions of rock from a distance, providing information that will be essential to the mission’s success.
Here’s a closer…
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