LIBS spectrometer from LANL to seek life on Mars

Los Alamos, NM--On the successful November 26 NASA launch of the Mars Science Laboratory, the car-sized Curiosity rover was equipped with a remote-detection instrument originally developed at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) called ChemCam that will use blasts of laser energy to remotely probe Mars’s surface, determining whether Mars is or was habitable. The LANL researchers and scientists from the French space institute IRAP will analyze data from a telescope that views the flash of glowing plasma created by vaporized material from the laser and record the colors of light contained within it for spectroscopic analysis. The Curiosity rover is expected to land on Mars in August 2012 after traveling nearly 354 million miles and roam the surface of Mars for about 98 weeks, the period of one Martian year.

"ChemCam is designed to look for lighter elements such as carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen, all of which are crucial for life," said Roger Wiens, principal investigator of the MSL mission’s ChemCam team. "The system can provide immediate, unambiguous detection of water from frost or other sources on the surface as well as carbon--a basic building block of life as well as a possible byproduct of life. This makes the ChemCam a vital component of Curiosity’s mission."

The system looks at the entire visible spectrum as well as portions on either side (the infrared and ultraviolet), which gives ChemCam the ability to see any element on the periodic table. ChemCam can zap an area about 23 feet away from the rover vehicle. The system relies on a technology primarily developed at LANL called laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS). At the heart of the technology is an infrared laser that focuses more than a million watts of power onto a tiny area for five-billionths of a second. LIBS has successfully been used on Earth to determine the composition of objects within extreme environments such as inside nuclear reactors and on the sea floor. Other applications for LIBS include cancer detection and environmental monitoring. The Mars Science Laboratory is the technology’s first extraterrestrial use.

The French national space agency, Centre National d’Études Spatiales, and France provided ChemCam’s laser and telescope. LANL supplied ChemCam’s spectrometers and data processors, and leads the overall investigation. Once the rover lands on Mars, LANL operations specialists will control the instrument.

SOURCE: LANL; www.lanl.gov/news/releases/los_alamos_instrument_to_shine_light_on_mars_habitability.html

IMAGE: The LANL ChemCam system uses a laser to take samples from as far as 23 feet away from the Curiosity rover. (Courtesy LANL)

 

The LANL ChemCam system uses a laser to take samples from as far as 23 feet away from the Curiosity rover

50 YEARS OF SOLID-STATE LASERS


A long way from the ruby laser

Most Popular Articles

Webcasts

Ray Optics Simulations with COMSOL Multiphysics

The Ray Optics Module can be used to simulate electromagnetic wave propagation when the wavelength is much smaller than the smallest geometric entity in the ...

Multichannel Spectroscopy: Technology and Applications

This webcast, sponsored by Hamamatsu, highlights some of the photonic technology used in spectroscopy, and the resulting applications.

Handheld Spectrometers

Spectroscopy is a powerful and versatile tool that traditionally often required a large and bulky instrument. The combination of compact optics and modern pa...

Fracking, climate change, and lasers:  new tools to reduce fugitive methane emissions

This webcast, sponsored by Hamamatsu Corporation, covers recent developments and field deployments of compact quantum-cascade-laser (QCL)-based methane senso...
White Papers

Narrow-line fiber-coupled modules for DPAL pumping

A new series of fiber coupled diode laser modules optimized for DPAL pumping is presented, featur...

Accurate LED Source Modeling Using TracePro

Modern optical modeling programs allow product design engineers to create, analyze, and optimize ...

Optical Isolators Improve Engraving Performance of Pulsed Fiber Lasers

The deleterious effects of back reflections on pulsed fiber lasers used in marking and engraving ...
Technical Digests

ADHESIVES, SEALANTS, AND COATINGS: Solutions for optical technologies

A vast array of optical systems of various types and degrees of complexity require the use of adh...

WAVELENGTH-SWEPT LASERS: Dispersion-tuned fiber laser sweeps over a 140 nm range for OCT

By eliminating the use of mechanical tunable filters and instead tuning by intensity-modulation i...

Keeping pace with developments in photonic materials research

For demanding or custom spectroscopy solutions, care must be taken in selecting and integrating a...

HIGH-POWER FIBER LASERS: Working in the kilowatt regime

High-power materials-processing fiber lasers are available in an increasing variety of forms, as ...

Click here to have your products listed in the Laser Focus World Buyers Guide.
Social Activity
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
Copyright © 2007-2014. PennWell Corporation, Tulsa, OK. All Rights Reserved.PRIVACY POLICY | TERMS AND CONDITIONS