Friday, August 24, 2012

After 352-Million-Mile Trip, Cheers for 23 Feet on Mars

On Sunday, the rover fired a laser instrument for the first time, hitting a rock with 30 bursts in 10 seconds and analyzing the atomic makeup from the resulting flashes of light.

Having succeeded at rock-zapping on Sunday, scientists turned the laser, which wasdeveloped at Los Alamos National Laboratory, to vaporize small bits at six more locations. So far, most of the rocks appear to be a type, common on Mars, that forms from the rapid cooling of lava (full story).

Mars Curiosity rover fires laser for first time

“Our team is both thrilled and working hard, looking at the results. After eight years building the instrument, it’s payoff time!” said ChemCam principal investigator Roger Wiens of Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

The initial use of the laser was primarily for target practice, but it appears to be yielding more data than expected. According to ChemCam Deputy Project Scientist Sylvestre Maurice of the Institut de Recherche en Astrophysique et Planetologie (IRAP) in Toulouse, France, the data from the initial test is better than data collected on Earth in terms of signal-to-noise ratio (full story).

Mars rover Curiosity zaps first rock

ChemCam was designed and built at Los Alamos and is a joint project between the U.S. Department of Energy and the French national space agency. It is one of 10 state-of-the-art instruments making up Curiosity’s science payload (full story).

Stories also appeared on CNN



Chemcam Laser First Analyzes Yield Beautiful Results

Members of the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover ChemCam team, including Los Alamos National Laboratory scientists, squeezed in a little extra target practice after zapping the first fist-sized rock that was placed in the laser's crosshairs last weekend.

"The spectrum we have received back from Curiosity is as good as anything we looked at on Earth," said Los Alamos National Laboratory planetary scientist Roger Wiens, Principal Investigator of the ChemCam Team. "The entire MSL team was very excited about this and we popped a little champagne." (Full story)

The Curiosity rover’s nuclear-powered laser

ChemCam can analyze the resulting sparks in a process called "laser-induced-breakdown spectroscopy," or LIBS for short, says Astronomy News. LIBS reads the spectrum of light emitted by the vaporized rock using three different spectrometers. That data is then beamed back to NASA and forwarded to the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico for study (full story).


Curiosity Zaps Its First Martian Rock

ChemCam employs a technique called "laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy", which determines the composition of ionized gas from a target in extreme environments such as inside nuclear reactors.

The laser, telescope, and camera were provided by CNES (the French space agency), while the spectrometers, electronics, and software were built at Los AlamosNational Laboratory (full story).

In Southwest, Worst-Case Fire Scenario Plays Out

As the Earth's average temperature creeps upward, climate scientists have predicted record heat waves and droughts. That's what we've seen this summer in the U.S.

"What we have now is a gradual trend towards warmer temperatures," says Park Williams, an ecologist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. He says climate change is exaggerating the normal swings in weather (full story).

Twin Satellites Will Help Improve Space Weather Forecasts

On Aug. 24, NASA will launch two identical satellites from Cape Canaveral, Fla., to begin its Radiation Belt Storm Probes (RBSP) mission. The theory and modeling teams at UCLA and Los Alamos National Laboratory bring the total collaboration to five institutions (full story).

Sonic cooker uses sound waves to reduce energy poverty

The project is being led by the UK's University of Nottingham, but has drawn on the expertise of partners around the world including the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in New Mexico.

LANL researchers Scott Backhaus and Greg Swift demonstrated the first-ever thermo-acoustic engine in 1999, adapting the principles originally outlined by Scottish engineer Robert Stirling in the 19th century (full story).

Laser research shows promise for cancer treatment

Scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory have observed, for the first time, how a laser penetrates dense, electron-rich plasma to generate ions. The process has applications for developing next generation particle accelerators and new cancer treatments.

Plasmas dense with electrons normally reflect laser light like a mirror. But a strong laser can drive those electrons to near the speed of light, making the plasma transparent and accelerating the plasma ions (full story).

Also from R&D Magazine this week:

Testing sealed containers, no valves needed

Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, N.M., and Y-12 National Security Complex, Oak Ridge, Tenn., have introduced a way to test valveless sealed containers without compromising the integrity of the vessel. Called Valveless Laser Processing, the innovation uses a single laser to remotely penetrate, sample, and reseal hermetically sealed containers (full story).

Bishop to lead LANL STE Directorate

Alan Bishop has been selected to be the laboratory’s next principal associate director for Science, Technology and Engineering (PADSTE). Bishop has been acting in that role since Aug. 29, 2011.

Over the course of a distinguished 30-year career as a research scientist and leader, Bishop has more than 700 publications in archival journals and has served as a guest scientist, guest scholar and visiting professor (full story).

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