SuperCam, a camera for studying Martian rocks

The “Science Images” format allows you to decipher a particularly significant photograph from a scientific point of view, to describe it and to understand its challenges.


You are looking at a close-up of one of the cameras of the Perseverance rover which has just landed on Mars. This robot carries several cameras used to guide it from Earth but also and above all to carry out analyzes of the Martian environment.

SuperCam was developed primarily in France and the United States. This project is the result of the work of more than 300 people in France (CNRS, universities, CNES and industry) under the technical responsibility of the Institute for Research in Astrophysics and Planetology (IRAP) and under the responsibility of the National Center for Studies space (CNES) which finances the project. The American counterpart is located at Los Alamos National Laboratory and at NASA / JPL-Caltech.

Its mission is to analyze the chemical and mineralogical composition of Martian rocks by shooting them with a laser or by collecting the light returned by these rocks. SuperCam uses five measurement techniques. The first technique is “LIBS” also called laser-induced plasma spectrometry. The idea is to heat the rock very strongly over a small area (less than a square millimeter), this will create a spark whose emitted light will be recorded and analyzed by SuperCam to describe the chemical composition of the rock. Another technique consists in illuminating the rock via the small folding mirror visible in the center of this photo and the instrument in return detects a slight shift in wavelength corresponding to the Raman effect which indicates the mineralogical composition. The telescope in the photo is equipped with an infrared spectrometer which also provides information on mineralogy. A microphone can record the impact of the LIBS laser on rocks to measure their hardness. These techniques can also be used to probe the atmosphere.

SuperCam also embeds a more “traditional” camera in order to photograph the Martian environment, and thus be able to describe precisely in which context each analysis was carried out.

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