French SuperCam to study Mars with laser
The size of a shoebox, weighing around 5 kg, SuperCam will deploy its “superpowers” from the top of a mast. With additional American analysis and control tools, placed in the body of the rover. “It is a geophysical watch, which will give the direction to take a sample and examine its environment.“, explains astrophysicist Sylvestre Maurice, of the Institute for Research in Astrophysics and Planetology, who designed the instrument. The SuperCam head is equipped with a laser, which fires on a rock, up to 7 m from a distance, vaporizes a tiny part in the form of plasma. The light emitted is analyzed by a spectrometer revealing “the elements of which rocks are made“, like iron, silica or aluminum. A high resolution camera, in color this time, completes this first observation to characterize the chosen targets.
But “to go towards traces of life, it takes more than chemistry, and analyze molecules, do mineralogy“, explains the researcher. This requires three additional techniques. SuperCam will therefore use a laser shot in green light, up to 12 meters, associated with Raman spectrometry which observes how the atoms of matter are organized. An infrared spectrometer. will complete this observation by analyzing, up to the horizon, the way in which sunlight is reflected by the target. Finally, a microphone, “a first on Mars”, will provide information on the hardness of the rock, thanks to the analysis of the “click” made by the laser shot when hitting it.