Example (NASA's Curiosity Rover Eyes Weird Rock On Mars):

Measurements by Curiosity's rock-zapping ChemCam laser and another instrument revealed that the target, a chunk of bedrock dubbed Elk, contains high levels of silica and hydrogen, NASA officials said.

What exactly does that adjective mean?

  • 2
    The laser beam disintegrates the substance for analysis. To "zap" is to direct a high-energy beam or pulse at something.
    – TimR
    Jul 29, 2015 at 11:49
  • The "rock-zapping ChemCam laser" refers to the laser fired by Curiousity's rock-vaporizing laser gun. From Zap! Laser Sparks Fly on Mars in Curiosity Rover Video: NASA's Curiosity rover on Mars has set off some fireworks on the Red Planet with the zap-zap-zap of its high-tech space laser. Jul 29, 2015 at 15:27
  • Odd compound words are not definable in a dictionary.
    – Catija
    Jul 30, 2015 at 0:42

1 Answer 1


I'm not sure why the comments above are not answers, because they are valid.

"Zap" is an onomatopoeia for the sound that high voltage electricity makes when it ionizes air. As such it's been used in science fiction since at least the 1940s to represent the sound of laser based weaponry. It is used here facetiously to introduce a little humor and light-heartedness into the potentially very dry subject of gas spectroscopy.


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