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NASA just strapped a frickin’ laser beam to its Mars 2020 rover

Published Jul 3rd, 2019 6:04PM EDT
mars 2020 rover laser
Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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We’re still about a year away from the launch of the Mars 2020 mission, but NASA’s shiny new rover is rapidly taking shape already. The rover, which is far more advanced than any machine NASA has ever sent to the Red Planet, just received what NASA calls a “Super Instrument” in the form of an all-in-one camera, laser, and spectrometer unit.

The tool, called SuperCam, is the natural evolution of the ChemCam installed on the Curiosity rover which is currently in use on Mars. A new post on NASA’s website explains why the instrument is so vital to the Mars 2020 mission, and how it could teach scientists some very important things about Earth’s neighbor.

The SuperCam consists of both a mast unit and a body unit which work together to provide scientists with as much information about Martian surface samples as possible.

“SuperCam’s rock-zapping laser allows scientists to analyze the chemical composition of its targets,” Soren Madsen, payload development manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a statement. “It lets the Mars 2020 rover conduct its cutting-edge science from a distance.”

The rover will be capable of traveling upwards of ten miles once it arrives on Mars, but the more work it can do from any one location, the better. The SuperCam gives NASA scientists the ability to collect a huge amount of data at every point throughout the rover’s journey, increasing the overall payoff.

The Mars 2020 mission will begin in July of next year when the rover is shot towards the Red Planet. It won’t actually arrive on Mars until February of 2021, but once it’s up and running on the Martian surface it will have the power to reveal many new secrets.