back to article Revealed: Full specs on Mars rover's nuclear laser heat ray

The Register rayguns desk is pleased to report that we have now obtained full specifications on the powerful laser heat-ray disintegrator blaster fitted to the NASA Mars rover Curiosity, which departed planet Earth on Saturday and is even now hurtling through the void of space towards a rendezvous with destiny in the red planet' …


This topic is closed for new posts.
  1. DJ Smiley

    Carbon, Crucial for life?

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't we recently find some lifeform which lacks carbon, I think it has arsenic or something instead.

    I still can't comprehend why we think so strongly that aliens should be anything _like_ us. Why should they need carbon, if they come from a planet which isn't rich in carbon, it'd make sense that life evolved to NOT depend on it.

    1. Chemist

      "didn't we recently find some lifeform which lacks carbon"

      NO !

    2. Thecowking

      Close but no cigar.

      It was arsenical DNA where arsenic replaced (some of?) the phosphorus that is normally present. Carbon would still be needed.

      If they don't use carbon to make their long chains, they would need to live on a world with a massively different chemistry, and temperature, to ours. We look for life like us because it's most likely that we would be able to understand, interact with and recognise such life. If there were life that was completely alien, how would we know it was alive?

      If you can effectively answer that question a lot of people would be very interested to hear that answer.

    3. Chemist

      To give a fuller answer ..

      No you were wrong about the arsenic bit.

      The reason why carbon seems so important is that it's got a lot of useful properties all in the one element

      It can bond with 2,3 or 4 other atoms either with single. double, aromatic or triple bonds. It's reactivity can be altered relatively easily to make or break bonds. Long carbon chains can be relatively stable. Other elements don't have all or most of these properties. I could go on but it would end-up being a text-book in organic chemistry.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I believe it substituted arsenic for phosphorus, it was still carbon based life.

    5. cray74

      No, it was still carbon-based life. Scientists got microbes to substitute arsenic for phosphorus, not carbon.

      As for why life needs carbon, that's because it's about the most adaptable element around. You can build anything from super-hard diamonds to gases from it, with infinite variations of polymers and biological compounds in between. No other element compares. Even silicon, a favorite of science fiction alien life, is much, much more limited than carbon. Wiki, for whatever its flaws, addresses the topic fairly well and with a good selection of references.

      This is not to say, "Non-carbon life is impossible," just that the deck is really stacked against carbon-free life.

    6. adnim

      10^100 things to do with Carbon

      No other element has the capacity to create compounds complex and diverse enough to facilitate all the chemical reactions required to support life, at least life as we know it. All life we are aware of is a result of carbon based chemistry, specifically organic chemistry.

      If of course there is life existing in the Universe that is not dependent on such chemical complexity then it could well indeed be non carbon based, However, if such complexity and diversity of chemical compounds is a requirement for life to exist then it has to be carbon based.

    7. DJO Silver badge

      It’s life Jim, but not as we know it.

      "Correct me if I'm wrong"

      OK, You're wrong!

      The organism you half recollect substituted Arsenic for Phosphorus.

      No other element can form compounds similar to those formed with Carbon which allow life type reactions. That's at normal (low) temperatures and pressures – The book is open for Saturn, Jupiter and maybe Venus when considering the possibility of high temperature & pressure non-carbon based life.

  2. mmm mmm

    What gets me

    Is that they have to be very lucky where the rover lands. I mean they can put it pretty much where they want but it'd be like some alien race plonking a rover down here in the middle of the harshest desert where nothing could live versus say, a temperate part of the world where life thrives currently but would be gone when said aliens want to explore. If there was/is/could be life on Mars in the future then they've got a strike gold as if were and get it in exactly the right place.

  3. CarlosSpicyWiener

    Too bad...

    ... there are no sharks on Mars.

    1. Evil Auditor Silver badge

      not yet!

      The question is how is the shark going to survive the journey to Mars?

  4. Christoph

    Heat Ray?

    "the rover's heat-ray (for the laser operates in the infrared)"

    We're sending Mars a machine armed with a heat ray? H G Wells would love it!

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Oh the chances of anything coming from Earth are a million to one he said!

      I so wish the Rover had a speaker playing "HULAAAAAAAA" as it trundled over the Martian desert, crushing microbes as it went. They had no hope against the terran heatray, like bows and arrows against the lightening.

      Maybe all the intelligent life *is* underground, in a brave new world, with just a handful of Martians they're starting all over agaaaaaaaaiiiiiiiiiiiin!

      Mine's the one with a 'I LOVE JEFF WAYNE' badge.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @_RCH_: If you'd read the book instead of listening to Jeff Wayne's adaptation, you'd know that HG Wells' Martians go "Ulla", not "Hula" - Polynesian dancing is tricky with three legs.

        1. Steven Roper

          Actually, if you'd *really* read the book

          You'd also know that the Martians only cry "Ulla" when they're dying; when they're in full health and striding around smashing down pine trees and heat-raying everything else, they cry "Aloo"!

  5. Thomas 18

    Deploying in force

    Surely sending only one death laser robot was a mistake, if the Martians can somehow disable it then they could use our own technology against us!

    I believe commonly accepted wisdom is to send at least 3 super bots though only to engage one at a time.

  6. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

    Yet across the gulf of space

    [they] slowly and surely drew their plans against us.

  7. cray74

    Nice clarification

    Way too many articles would've neglected to mention the "megawatt laser" only actually fires brief pulses. Watts don't mean much if you lack a time scale. For example, 1 joule (not even enough to raise a gram of water by 1C) applied in a millionth of a second came from a megawatt source.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Watts kind of have the timescale built-in

      what with 1 Watt being the work done at a rate of 1 Joule per second.

      1. cray74

        @Anonymous Coward: Watts do not have a time scale built in.

        Watts are misleading. They say how fast work is accomplished / energy is delivered, but without a timeline you don't know how much work was done / energy was delivered. Power (Watts) is equivalent to speed (miles per hour): you cannot tell distance covered at a given speed unless someone tells you the time spent at that speed. You traveled at 60mph? Great, how far did you go? You can't tell unless someone tells you the time spent at 60mph.

        Back to power. For example: lifting a liter (kilogram) of water on Earth could take (pardon me rounding gravity to 10m/s/s) 1/10th of a Watt, 1 Watt, 100 Watts, 1 megawatt, 1 gigawatt, or any other number of Watts. If you don't specify the time (or distance) Watts don't tell you anything because you've got 2 unresolved variables (distance and time). 1 gigawatt might've been used to lift the kilo of water to a distance of 1 meter in 1/100,000,000th of a second, or it might've been used to hoist that liter to a height of 1000 kilometers in 1/1000th of a second. (I think I got that math correct.)

        If the distance was fixed at 1 meter, the difference between a 1/10th Watt hoist and a 1-gigawatt hoist is not energy, because both hoists only delivered 10 Joules of work (lifting a kilo a distance of 1 meter in 1G, rounded up). Rather, it was time of delivery: 100 seconds versus 1/100,000,000th of a second. The work accomplished was the same, but you can guess the difference in size and complexity between a 0.1-watt motor and a 1-gigawatt motor.

        Similarly, a laser is a 1-megawatt laser if it delivers 0.001 Joule in a nanosecond, even if it only delivers a fraction of a joule of every second. A laser is also a 1-megawatt laser if it delivers 1 million joules per second for hours on end. There are a couple of difference between the two lasers.

        One of those lasers is a few kilograms and can vaporize microscopic quantities of rock with spare wattage from a 125-Watt RTG. The other fills a jumbo jet and can puncture the skins of liquid-fueled ballistic missiles using tens of megawatts from combusting exotic chemicals. The difference between is not wattage of output (both are 1-megawatt lasers), but rather total joules delivered to target.

        And you don't know the joules delivered by a power source unless time is separately specified. Watts certainly won't tell you.

    2. Gordon 10

      But but

      Im surprised many commentards would think that it matters so much in an obviously tongue in cheek article.

  8. JeffyPooh

    Blast the pesky Martian Defence Forces...

    Maybe with such defensive weaponry, the craft will actually make it past the Martian Defence Forces.

    1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      Just in time to steal the Illudium Q-36 Explosive Space Modulator, one hopes?

  9. MahFL22


    The MMRTG charges the batteries, which provide the power for all the Rover.

  10. John Savard

    Revenge for 1895

    I take it the headline was meant to picture this as Earth taking its revenge for the Martian attack, with heat rays, on Britain in the late nineteenth century as chronicled by one Herbert George Wells. Or at least to note with irony that instead of the Martians sending walking tripods with heat rays to us, we're the ones sending robots with heat rays to them.

    But our intellects are neither cool nor unsympathetic, and we are confident there is no intelligent life on Mars against which we could stumble into war.

    1. Steven Roper
      Thumb Up

      If there is life on Mars

      then as far as that life is concerned, then certainly our intellects are vast and cool and unsympathetic - especially the moment somebody figures out how to make money from it!

      One James Cameron pointed that out quite spectacularly, if a bit Smurfily, a couple of years ago, I believe.

  11. Thomas Martin

    I hope they have something to clean the solar array

    I hope they were smart enough to include something to get the dust off the solar array. Odd to think that engineers with that many smarts would not think of that, what with Mars being very dry and dusty. Made a problem on several occasions.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      This sucker is nuclear

      it's been mentioned once or twice in Reg articles...

    2. Poor Coco

      Yes, they did...

      There are no solar panels of any kind; Curiosity uses a nuclear battery instead.

    3. wilber

      And what solar array would that be, then?

      Plainly, in this and other articles, it has been said that the Rover uses a nuclear power source to avoid such problems.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      It doesn't have solar panels, just a nuclear power supply.

    5. cray74

      @Thomas Martin, the Curiosity rover does not have solar panels, and thus doesn't need dusting. It is powered by a plutonium-238-fueled radioscopic thermal generator. No sunlight needed.

      For the prior rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, were solar-powered and have had dust-related problems. However, the extra weight of a dust cleaner was not considered worth the weight penalty that could've been used for extra solar panels or, more importantly, extra instrumentation. They were only meant to last 90 days, so dust build-up was not a concern worth wasting mass on.

    6. Lord Elpuss Silver badge


      ...what - you mean like having a built-in nuclear reactor so it doesn't need to be dependent on solar panels?

    7. Gordon 10


      Does it have one? And if so what's it used for? The things friggin NU-clear poward.

  12. RosslynDad

    Nice use of the word "Puissance" but are you really expecting Curiosity to jump large hurdles? I know the gravity is much smaller than Earth but this is surely beyond the original design spec!

  13. spamspamspam

    @ Thomas Martin

    That's impressive that in a 3.5 line comment you've revealed that you neither read the article nor know what you're talking about!

    1) It's got a NUCLEAR powersource charging BATTERIES - there are no solar panels

    2) "Odd to think that ..." yes it would be odd to think that, cause it's never happened! Reduction in power due to dust accumulation was expected for the MER's (Spirit & Opportunity) - it was a design decision to live with that / design for it given the limited lifespan expected for other reasons rather than put in some probably easily-breakable, not very effective cleaning system.

  14. Anonymous Coward

    Gotta love that laser!!

    But I doubt they had room to add a speaker system that plays excerpts from famous sci-fi every time the laser fires. I take a certain sick satisfaction in the rover trundling through the Martian landscape and frying things to the accomanying snippets like "He's dead, Jim!", "Yeah!! Get some!!" and "Game over, man! Game over!!"

    It would definitely make an impression on the Martian populace, especially if the average Martian is about the size of a pinhead.....

  15. Graham Marsden

    "the Martian explorer's beam...

    "...can be sustained only for tiny instants of time"

    Ah, so it's a 1MW Pulse Laser.

    They need to hyperspace to a system with a higher Tech Level and sell off a cargo at a decent profit to at least upgrade to a Beam Laser.

    Mine's the one with the "Right on, Commander!" badge...

  16. D@v3


    Lets just hope that The Martians don't see the sending of a heat ray robot to their planet as a sign of aggression.

  17. Allan George Dyer

    Search for (intelligent) life...

    1. Fire laser

    2. Target goes "Ouch" -> Life has been found

    3. Target goes "Ouch", picks up rock and flattens rover -> Intelligent life has been found

  18. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

    Good forward planning..

    .. equipping the thing with a laser to defend itself in case it actually finds life.

    I admire the optimism.

  19. Wombling_Free

    I think NASA have been doing their homework....

    as everyone knows, you only NEED a laser that targets an area the size of a pinhead when you are up against the combined might of the Vl'hurgs and the G'Gug'vunts.

  20. Steven Davison

    Could this new Rover go and blast the dust off the other two and make them useful again? (I know one of them had a failed drive....)

  21. This post has been deleted by its author

This topic is closed for new posts.

Other stories you might like