Mission to Mars

The ChemCam instrument aboard NASA's Curiosity rover has now recorded its first spectra on the red planet, Mars. The spectral test proved that the appropriate systems are functioning properly but also offered a sneak preview of the spectra of Martian rocks. "We got a great spectrum of [the rock called] Coronation - lots of signal," explains ChemCam Principal Investigator Roger Wiens of Los Alamos National Laboratory, in New Mexico. "Our team is both thrilled and working hard, looking at the results. After eight years building the instrument, it's payoff time!" ChemCam uses laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS), which has been used on Earth to access spectra non-invasively in extreme environments such as the interior of nuclear reactors and on the deep ocean floor.