This image illustrates the principals of a technique called "laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy," which the Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument will use on Mars. ChemCam is one of 10 science instruments on the Mars Science Laboratory mission's rover, Curiosity.
The technique fires pulses of a laser at a target such as a rock. Energy from the laser excites a pinhead-size spot on the target into glowing, ionized gas called plasma. Spectrometers in the instrument analyzes the spectrum of light emitted by the plasma to identify chemical elements in the target. Different elements glow in different wavelengths, or colors, as illustrated with examples from the elements aluminum and copper and from samples of basaltic rock.
ChemCam was conceived, designed and built by a U.S.-French team led by Los Alamos National Laboratory in Los Alamos, N. M.; NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.; the Centre National d'Études Spatiales (the French government space agency); and the Centre d'Étude Spatiale des Rayonnements at the Observatoire Midi-Pyrénées, Toulouse, France.
JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Mars Science Laboratory mission for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington. This mission will land a rover named Curiosity on Mars in August 2012. Researchers will use the tools on the rover to study whether the landing region has had environmental conditions favorable for supporting microbial life and favorable for preserving clues about whether life existed.