Space

Mars exploration: First data shows Perseverance's SuperCam is in excellent shape

This image was taken during the first drive of NASA’s Perseverance rover on Mars on March 4, 2021.
This image was taken during the first drive of NASA’s Perseverance rover on Mars on March 4, 2021. © NASA/JPL-Caltech

The SuperCam instrument on board the Mars Perseverance rover is in excellent condition. According to the French Space Agency CNES, this was confirmed by the first telemetry received at the Toulouse based French Operations Centre for Science and Exploration.

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The SuperCam, built by the Los Alamos National Laboratory and a consortium of 14 French laboratories, is the eyes and ears of the rover. It is equipped with a powerful laser and detection instruments for conducting five different types of analysis of the Martian rocks and soil. 

These include the Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy that involves analysing the light from the plasma formed after the infrared laser hits a target rock up to seven meters away. 

The second technique is Raman spectroscopy for determining the mineral composition of the rocks. This is carried out with the help of a green laser that's generated from the same laser source.

The visible and infrared spectrometer will analyse sunlight reflected from the Martian surface.

"First health checkup excellent for the SuperCam instrument on the surface of Mars!" wrote CNES president Jean-Yves Le Gall on social media. "Bravo to all the teams that built it and that will be using it."

The colour camera takes high-resolution pictures to provide geological context for targets while the science microphone can record the popping of the rocks when the infrared laser hits the rocks and additionally, record the sound of the Martian wind.

Scientists have already received the first images from the camera of expected quality and resolution as well as the first sound recordings of the Martian wind and the zapping sounds of the laser impacting a rock target 30 times at a distance of about 10 feet.  

According to CNES, while the SuperCam is currently undergoing a series of tests,  the data received so far shows the instrument is in great shape.

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