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LANL sleuth on trail of Martian mystery

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When it comes to examining the surface of rocks on Mars with a high-powered laser, five is a magic number for Los Alamos National Laboratory postdoctoral researcher Nina Lanza.
During a poster session today at the 44th Annual Lunar and Planetary Science Conference at The Woodlands, Texas, Lanza described how the laser-shooting ChemCam instrument aboard the Curiosity rover currently searching the surface of Mars for signs of habitability has shown what appears to be a common feature on the surface of some very different Martian rocks during Curiosity’s first 90 days on the Red Planet.
But exactly what that common feature is remains an intriguing mystery — and one that Lanza intends to solve.
The ChemCam instrument uses an extremely powerful laser to vaporize a pinpoint of rock surface. The instrument then reads the chemical composition of the vaporized sample with a spectrometer. The highly accurate laser can fire multiple pulses in the same spot, providing scientists with an opportunity to gently interrogate a rock sample, even up to a millimeter in depth. Many rocks are zapped 30 to 50 times in a single location, and one rock was zapped 600 times.
Members of the ChemCam team generally discard results from the first five laser blasts because of a belief that after the first five blasts.


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