Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam)
Looking at rocks and soils from a distance, ChemCam fires a laser and analyzes the elemental composition of vaporized materials from areas smaller than 1 millimeter on the surface of Martian rocks and soils. An on-board spectrograph provides unprecedented detail about minerals and microstructures in rocks by measuring the composition of the resulting plasma -- an extremely hot gas made of free-floating ions and electrons.
ChemCam also uses the laser to clear away dust from Martian rocks and a remote camera to acquire extremely detailed images. The camera can resolve features 5 to 10 times smaller than those visible with cameras on NASA's two Mars Exploration Rovers that began exploring the red planet in January 2004. In the event the Mars Science Laboratory rover can't reach a rock or outcrop of interest, ChemCam has the capability to analyze it from a distance.
Laser-Induced Remote Sensing
The Laser-Induced Remote Sensing for Chemistry and Micro-Imaging instrument identifies atomic elements in martian rocks. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/J.-L. Lacour, CEA
From 23 feet (7 meters) away, ChemCam is able to:
Light from the telescope travels along a fiber-optic link to a body unit inside the rover. The body unit carries three spectrographs for dividing the plasma light into its constituent wavelengths for chemical analysis. The body unit also has its own power supply and an electronic interface to the rover's central computer system.
Developing the ChemCam instruments for NASA were the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) and the Centre d'Etude Spatiale des Rayonnements (CESR), with major contributions from JPL, Ocean Optics Inc., and the Commissariat a l'Energie Atomique (CEA).
Example of a Spectrum from Curiosity's ChemCam Instrument
This image provides an example of the type of data collected by the Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument on the Mars Science Laboratory mission's Curiosity rover. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL
First Laser-Zapped Rock on Mars
This composite image, with magnified insets, depicts the first laser test by the Chemistry and Camera, or ChemCam, instrument aboard NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover.