Science

The Sound of Mars

Mars: Credit NASA

This recording shows the results of NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover (wait for it) using its SuperCam microphone to record the sounds of a Martian dust devil – the first time any such recording has been made. The dust devil passed directly over Perseverance on Sept. 27, 2021, the 215th Martian day, or sol, of the mission.

The microphone is not on continuously; it records for about three minutes every couple of days. Getting the whirlwind recording was lucky, though not necessarily unexpected.

 Roger Wiens, professor of earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences in Purdue University’s College of Science, leads the instrument team that made the discovery. He is the principal investigator of Perseverance’s SuperCam, a suite of tools that comprise the rover’s “head” that includes advanced remote-sensing instruments with a wide range of spectrometers, cameras and the microphone. 

In the Jezero Crater, where Perseverance landed, the team has observed evidence of nearly 100 dust devils – tiny tornadoes of dust and grit – since the rover’s landing. This is the first time the microphone was on when one passed over the rover.

Roger Weins explained:

“We could watch the pressure drop, listen to the wind, then have a little bit of silence that is the eye of the tiny storm, and then hear the wind again and watch the pressure rise.

“The wind is fast — about 25 miles per hour, but about what you would see in a dust devil on Earth. The difference is that the air pressure on Mars is so much lower that the winds, while just as fast, push with about 1% of the pressure the same speed of wind would have back on Earth. It’s not a powerful wind, but clearly enough to loft particles of grit into the air to make a dust devil.”

The breezes blowing grit off the solar panels of other rovers — especially Opportunity and Spirit — may be what helped them last so much longer.

“Those rover teams would see a slow decline in power over a number of days to weeks, then a jump. That was when wind cleared off the solar panels,” Wiens said.

The lack of such wind and dust devils in the Elysium Planitia where the InSIght mission landed may help explain why that mission is winding down.

“Just like Earth, there is different weather in different areas on Mars,” Wiens said. “Using all of our instruments and tools, especially the microphone, helps us get a concrete sense of what it would be like to be on Mars.” 

Click on this link to access the article: The sound of a Martian dust devil published in Nature Communications.

This image taken by NASA’s Perseverance rover on Aug. 6, 2021, shows the hole drilled in a Martian rock in preparation for the rover’s first attempt to collect a sample. It was taken by one of the rover’s hazard cameras in what the rover’s science team has nicknamed a “paver rock” in the “Crater Floor Fractured Rough” area of Jezero Crater.

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