Preparing to fire…

In the far far future, when Mankind is waging war in a multitude of solar systems scattered across the Galaxy, when our brave starship troopers are swarming over the surfaces of asteroids, planets and moons orbiting stars in faraway spairal arms, military historians will look back on this moment in 2012 as the moment when it all began. And the first shot was fired on Mars, at a rock called “N165″.

Okay, that’s just science fiction. But sometime soon, maybe even today, Curiosity will fire its ChemCam laser for the first time. I’ve never actually felt sorry for a rock before, but I am starting to feel sorry for “N165″, the unremarkable-looking piece of dust-stained grey basalt that has been chosen as the target for the first ever firing of a death ray on another planet…

Little N165 has become something of a personality, thanks to Twitter, the popular social networking service. Somewhere, someone has started Tweeting AS the rock, and given it its own character. It started off Tweeting away quite happily, naively welcoming its “new robot friend” to Mars, blissfully unaware of what the future had in store. Soon other users of Twitter were sending it warnings, telling it what NASA was planning for it. At first the rock wouldn’t believe them, and laughed off mentions of lasers, but this morning it seems a bit more worried…

I realise some people will be snootily turning their noses up at “this kind of thing”, and yeah, I know it’s a bit silly, pretending to “be” a rock on Mars, but don’t you think it’s another great sign of how people are engaging with science and Mars exploration now?

Anyway, N165 – I wonder why they won’t give it a name? Guilt? ;-) – will soon feel the kiss of Curiosity’s laser and, being serious for a moment, a new era of planetary geology will have begun. What is actually going to happen? Well, not this…

The ChemCam laser isn’t like that! No, when the laser fires there’ll be no beam leaping from rover to rock, no “War of the Worlds” death ray spitting out. A small, 1.5cm ish area of N165′s surface¬† will be heated up, and the vapourised rock that comes off it will be analysed by Curiosity’s onboard instruments. N165 won’t be blasted to bits, but it will have a bit of a scar that will take some explaining to its friends…

Curiosity already has N165 in its sights, as shwon by this new ChemCam image…

We’ll see what happens next. But if were you, N165, I’d duck…

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2 thoughts on “Preparing to fire…

  1. mike says:

    They’ve called that rock “Coronation”

  2. Matt Heverly says:

    I love the picture of the giant laser explosion. Exactly what every 5th grader thinks we are doing on Mars.

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