Two sols ago, Curiosity fired its laser at the fist sized rock called “Coronation”, ChemCam (Chemistry Camera) recorded the light from the elements vaporized by the laser and analyzed it with three spectrometers. The small square in the image is 8 mm across.
One question that this test will answer is whether the composition of the vaporized rock changed during the sequence of 30 laser pulses. If so, it could indicate that there was dust on the surface prior to the rock beneath being vaporized.
ChemCam is the first instrument capable of analyzing the elemental make up of material on Mars. Previous instruments on Spirit and Opportunity could take spectral data of rock minerals in the infrared and with alpha particle scattering and X-rays:
Curiosity is also equipped with an Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer.
ChemCam was developed, built and tested by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Los Alamos National Laboratory in partnership with scientists and engineers funded by France’s national space agency, Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES) and research agency, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS).
Below is the first image showing the extension of the robotic arm. The 7-foot-long (2.1-meter-long) arm maneuvers a turret of tools including a camera, a drill, a spectrometer, a scoop and mechanisms for sieving and portioning samples of powdered rock and soil.