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New Mars Rover will get next gen ChemCam

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NASA scientists scientists are building the next generation ChemCam with upgrades and brand new spectral capabilities for the NASA Mars 2020 rover.

As the NASA Curiosity rover roams the surface of Mars, its ChemCam captures the chemical makeup of its surroundings with a specially designed laser system. It is the most powerful laser to operate on the surface of another planet. The burst of infrared light it fires lasts only a few billionths of seconds, but it is powerful enough to vaporize the spot it hits at more than 8,000°C. Even from a distance, the ChemCam can examines rocks and soil using a process called Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS), where laser bursts atomize and excite components and spectral images capture their chemical signatures.

Here on Earth, scientists are already building the next generation’s ChemCam with impressive upgrades and brand new spectral capabilities for the NASA Mars 2020 rover, named for the year of its scheduled launch. In addition to a faster LIBS system, the SuperCam will feature an entirely new conduction-cooled laser system to provide the non-destructive analysis ability of Raman spectroscopy, capable of detecting carbon-based signatures of organic materials.

Together with the Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES) and The Research Institute in Astrophysics and Planetology (IRAP), Thales Group is in the final stages of testing the compact SuperCam system that will eventually endure harsh Martian conditions. They have already built and tested a full, representative model.

Unlike Curiosity’s LIBS-only functionality, this new instrument will be able to switch between a LIBS mode and a Raman mode of lasing, a method that requires two different laser colors to excite and probe molecular vibration energies for its non-destructive chemical identification. The second color is produced by a crystal that doubles the 1064 nanometer frequency used for LIBS measurements – which now produces 10 times as many shots in each burst of the laser for faster sampling.

This second, 532 nanometer beam will allow Mars 2020 to detect molecular structures evident of organic matter — evidence of past life. The new optical architecture required to produce the two operation modes, however, was not without its challenges.

The upgraded LIBS oscillator uses a diode pumped Nd:YAG crystal, as opposed to ChemCam’s Nd:KGW, which provides the longer bursts but requires new methods to ensure functionality over a large temperature range. Because the Nd:YAG absorbs over a narrow range of frequencies to lase at a given temperature, the SuperCam uses a multicolor stacked diode that can pump with a wide spectrum to account for a range in temperatures.

“This laser is running in burst mode, but with this laser we can do 1000 shots in one burst while the ChemCam laser was 10 time less,” said Eric Durand, one of SuperCam’s developers at Thales Group, France. “We longitudinally pump this laser with a stack which is a broadband emitting so that when the temperature is changing, the ND:YAG crystal is still absorbing the light and the laser can be used over at least 50 to 60 degrees without temperature regulation.”

Adding another complication to temperature control, the KTP crystal producing the green, frequency doubled light required additional stabilization.

“The most difficult aspect was to achieve the temperature range also with the green wavelength because we have to keep the efficiency over the whole range, and it was only possible by heating a little the KTP crystal,” said Durand.

The temperature stabilization required to keep the system aligned and working for either mode is difficult enough to achieve in a lab, but this system was designed to have the same stability while on the rover as it traverses the rocky Martian terrain. Moreover, it has to meet tight size and weight restrictions that come with space travel and stay free of contaminants that would destroy its components – a feat achieved by sealing the instrument with laser-welding.

The robust and powerful abilities of the new SuperCam will be an invaluable chemical probe for the Mars 2020 rover and may just bring to life a whole host of new findings back to us here on Earth.

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Smash hits the Nintendo Switch

Super Smash Bros. delivers what the fans wanted in the latest “Ultimate” instalment, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, the latest addition to the popular Nintendo Smash series, has landed on the Nintendo Switch with a bang, selling 5-million copies in the first week of its release. The game has been long-anticipated since the console’s release, as many fans consider iy to be a Nintendo staple. And the wait was well worth it.

It features 74 playable fighters, 108 stages, almost 1300 Spirit characters to collect while playing, and a single-player Adventure mode that took about three days (or 28 hours) of gameplay to complete. The game offers far more gameplay than its predecessors, making it the Smash game that gives its players the best bang for their buck.

For those new to the game, the goal is to fight opponents and build up their damage score (draining their health) to knock them off the stage eventually. This makes the game seem chaotic, as many players jump around the platforms as if they were on quicksand, in order to avoid being hit by the other players.

It also services two kinds of players: the competitive and the casual.

Competitive players can be matched on the online service by skill ranking to enjoy playing with similarly high-skilled opponents. This is especially important in e-sports training for the game, and for players wanting to master combos against other human players. The casual gamer is also catered for, with eight-player chaos and button-mashing to see who comes out luckiest. This segment is also important for those wanting to learn how to play.

Training mode is also a place to go for those learning to play. It offers “CPU” players that are graded by intensity to train as a single player to learn a character’s moves, combos and general fighting style. More challenging CPU players can also be used by competitive players to train when there isn’t a Wi-Fi connection available.

Direct Play features in this game, allowing two players with two Switch consoles to play against each other over a direct connection – no Wi-Fi needed. This is especially useful to those who want to have a social gaming element on the go, similar to that of the cable connector of the Gameboy.

Click here to read Bryan Turner review of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.

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Win Funko Fortnite in Vinyl

Gadget and Gammatek have nine Funko Fortnite figurines to give away.

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A Funko Pop figurine based on a character set is indicative of reaching the heights of pop culture. It is no surprise, then, that the world’s biggest online game, Fortnite, has its own line of Funko Pop figurines. The Funkos are modeled on the characters in game, including Drift, Ragnarok, Dark Vanguard, Volar, Tracera Ops, and Sparkle Specialist.

Now, local Funko distributor Gammatek has released the Fortnite figurines in South Africa. To celebrate, Gadget and Gammatek are giving away a set of three Funko Fortnite figurines to each of three readers (9 figurines in total). To enter, first click on your favourite Funko Pop on the next page and post the Tweet that appears. Then, follow Gadget on Twitter.

You can put the tweet in your own words, but entries must have the competition’s hashtag (#FunkoFortnite) and mention @GadgetZA to be considered valid.

Click here to select the Funko Fortnite character you want to tweet.

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