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This is the SuperCam of the Perseverance rover that is going to study the planet Mars

Perched atop the American Perseverance rover, the SuperCam, designed by French scientists, it will study Martian rocks with its laser beam and a microphone, looking for traces of past life on the red planet.

Two other European tools, the Spanish MEDA and the Norwegian RIMFAX, will be used to measure the atmospheric parameters of Mars and explore its subsurface, respectively.

The size of a shoe box and weighing in at five kilos, SuperCam will deploy its « superpowers » from the top of a mast, with additional US analysis and control tools affixed to the robot’s body.

«It is a method of geophysical surveillance, which will indicate where to take a certain sample and examine its environment“Astrophysicist Sylvestre Maurice, from the Institute for Research in Astrophysics and Planetology (IRAP), who designed the instrument, explains to ..

His older sister, ChemCam, who is still active on the American rover Curiosity since 2012, it proved that Mars was habitable. Now it is up to Perseverance to find traces of life.

His head is equipped with a laser beam, shot on a rock, up to 7 meters away, vaporizes a tiny part in the form of plasma. The emitted light is analyzed by a spectrometer (LIBS) that reveals « the elements of which rocks are composed », such as iron, silicon or aluminum.

– A microphone –

But «to discover possible signs of past life, it takes more than chemistry. You have to analyze the molecules, do mineralogy ”, explains the IRAP researcher. And therefore you have to be « much more ambitious, adding three techniques. »

With a green light laser shot, up to 12 meters long, associated with Raman spectrometry, which observes how the atoms of matter are organized and with an infrared spectrometer that will complete this observation by analyzing, up to the horizon, the way in which sunlight it is reflected by the objective under study.

Finally, a microphone, all « a premiere on Mars », will report on the hardness of the rock, thanks to the analysis of the «clack», the noise that the laser shot makes when hitting it.

The Perseverance rover that will explore the planet Tuesday / Photo: NASA

Operating remotely, SuperCam will complement the two American « instruments of contact », PIXL and SHERLOC. Located at the end of an articulated arm, at the bottom of the robot, they will study the chemical composition and look for a biological trace in the rocks, respectively.

SuperCam laser shots will help select the best targets and ‘clean’ the surface prior to study by PIXL and SHERLOC.

«The idea is that an instrument should answer several questions and that a question must find its answer with various instruments, « adds Sylvestre Maurice, whose institute, the IRAP, will share, from an operational center at the National Center for Space Studies (CNES), the piloting of SuperCam with the Los Álamos National Laboratory ( LANL), in the United States.

«If signs of life are perceived with one tool, they must be confirmed with the others », Explain.

But the final judge will be the return to Earth, in a few years, with the samples collected by Perseverance.

Until then, « we all help everyone », adds the scientist, citing for example the importance of the Norwegian RIMFAX tool, equipped with a radar that studies the subsoil, and the Spanish MEDA that will measure, among other things, the size and shape of the dust that could cloud SuperCam’s infrared measurements.

This last instrument is the result of the work of a «great team», of about 200 people, working in various laboratories, under the supervision of the CNES.

Perched atop the American Perseverance rover, the SuperCam, designed by French scientists, it will study Martian rocks with its laser beam and a microphone, looking for traces of past life on the red planet.

Two other European tools, the Spanish MEDA and the Norwegian RIMFAX, will be used to measure the atmospheric parameters of Mars and explore its subsurface, respectively.

The size of a shoe box and weighing in at five kilos, SuperCam will deploy its « superpowers » from the top of a mast, with additional US analysis and control tools affixed to the robot’s body.

«It is a method of geophysical surveillance, which will indicate where to take a certain sample and examine its environment“Astrophysicist Sylvestre Maurice, from the Institute for Research in Astrophysics and Planetology (IRAP), who designed the instrument, explains to ..

His older sister, ChemCam, who is still active on the American rover Curiosity since 2012, it proved that Mars was habitable. Now it is up to Perseverance to find traces of life.

His head is equipped with a laser beam, shot on a rock, up to 7 meters away, vaporizes a tiny part in the form of plasma. The emitted light is analyzed by a spectrometer (LIBS) that reveals « the elements of which rocks are composed », such as iron, silicon or aluminum.

– A microphone –

But «to discover possible signs of past life, it takes more than chemistry. You have to analyze the molecules, do mineralogy ”, explains the IRAP researcher. And therefore you have to be « much more ambitious, adding three techniques. »

With a green light laser shot, up to 12 meters long, associated with Raman spectrometry, which observes how the atoms of matter are organized and with an infrared spectrometer that will complete this observation by analyzing, up to the horizon, the way in which sunlight it is reflected by the objective under study.

Finally, a microphone, all « a premiere on Mars », will report on the hardness of the rock, thanks to the analysis of the «clack», the noise that the laser shot makes when hitting it.

The Perseverance rover that will explore the planet Tuesday / Photo: NASA

Operating remotely, SuperCam will complement the two American « instruments of contact », PIXL and SHERLOC. Located at the end of an articulated arm, at the bottom of the robot, they will study the chemical composition and look for a biological trace in the rocks, respectively.

SuperCam laser shots will help select the best targets and « clean » the surface prior to study by PIXL and SHERLOC.

«The idea is that an instrument should answer several questions and that a question must find its answer with various instruments, « adds Sylvestre Maurice, whose institute, the IRAP, will share, from an operational center at the National Center for Space Studies (CNES), the piloting of SuperCam with the Los Álamos National Laboratory ( LANL), in the United States.

«If signs of life are perceived with one tool, they must be confirmed with the others », Explain.

But the final judge will be the return to Earth, in a few years, with the samples collected by Perseverance.

Until then, « we all help everyone », adds the scientist, citing for example the importance of the Norwegian RIMFAX tool, equipped with a radar that studies the subsoil, and the Spanish MEDA that will measure, among other things, the size and shape of the dust that could cloud SuperCam’s infrared measurements.

This last instrument is the result of the work of a «great team», of about 200 people, working in various laboratories, under the supervision of the CNES.

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