How can Christian Science Monitor be so calm about this? Curiosity is on an alien planet vaporizing stuff with lasers:

NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity has zapped its first rock in what scientists elatedly declare a successful test of ChemCam, a laser-and-telescope combo designed to uncover the chemical composition of rocks on the Red Planet.

For Sunday’s test, researchers aimed ChemCam at a rock roughly 3 inches across and located about 9 feet from the rover. The team initially tagged the rock with the prosaic label N165. But researchers finally settled on a name for it: Coronation.

Curiosity tickled Coronation with 30 laser pulses during a 10-second test – each pulse lasting for about 5 billionths of a second and depositing more than a megawatt of power on a spot the size of a pinhead.

From ChemCam’s vantage point some 7 feet above the surface atop Curiosity’s mast, the rapid-fire pulses generated what looked like a series of sparks at the rock. Each spark, in fact, was a tiny burst of hot, ionized gas known as a plasma. The telescope associated with the laser captured that light, sending it through fiber-optic lines to spectrometers inside Curiosity’s body. The spectrometers hunted for the fingerprints of chemical elements encoded in the plasma’s light.

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