Research knows a lot about Mars, but what does the red planet actually sound like? The Nasa rover “Perseverance” and two commercially available microphones show it.
Pasadena / Frankfurt – Mars is dry, dusty, windy and not a pleasant place for people. Space exploration knows that much. But how does it actually sound on the red planet? What noises can you hear there? How do sounds propagate in the thin Martian atmosphere? For a long time, research was unable to answer these questions – and unceremoniously sent microphones to Mars. Two commercially available microphones were installed in the NASA rover “Perseverance”. One of the microphones was attached to the rover’s chassis, the second microphone is located on the mast of “Perseverance”, on which the so-called “SuperCam” is also located.
The NASA rover, which landed on Mars in February 2021, has now captured the “sound of Mars” for almost five hours and sent the images to Earth. You can hear gusts of wind, the metallic rover wheels driving over the stony ground or the whirring motors moving the rover’s arm.
“It is as if you were standing there yourself”, quoted NASA in a communication the planetary scientist Baptiste Chide, who is examining the recordings at the French L’Institut de Recherche en Astrophysique et Planétologie. “Martian sounds have strong bass vibrations, so when you put on headphones you can really feel it,” explains Chide.
NASA shows the sound of Mars: what does the red planet actually sound like?
But the researchers are not just interested in hearing the sounds on Mars – they can also derive new knowledge from these sounds. How do sounds propagate in the Martian atmosphere? The small “Ingenuity” helicopter, which arrived on Mars together with the rover “Perseverance” and has since flown several times over the surface of Mars, helped researchers answer this question.
The rover microphones captured the rotor noise of the helicopter on its fourth flight on April 30 and, according to NASA, allowed the researchers to exclude two of three models of how noises propagate on Mars.
The mere fact that the microphones were able to record the rotor noises of the Mars helicopter apparently surprised some researchers, as reported by NASA. They had assumed that higher tones would hardly be heard in the very thin Martian atmosphere.
Nasa rover “Perseverance”: microphone suggests Mars atmosphere
An activity of the Mars rover has also taken the researchers a step further: “Perseverance” shoots a laser at stones in order to then analyze the evaporation with a camera. The microphones have already recorded more than 25,000 of these laser shots and also provided the researchers with new knowledge. Some of the images allow the scientists to conclude that there are so-called “microturbulences” – short-term changes in the Martian atmosphere.
But what findings have the researchers now gained when it comes to the “sound of Mars”? “Sounds on Mars are carried much further than we thought,” explains Nina Lanza, a “SuperCam” scientist. “It shows how important it is to do field research.”
Sounds from Mars should help Nasa with rover maintenance
The noises that the microphones record on Mars have a very practical side effect for the teams on Earth in addition to all science: If enough data has been collected in the future, the noises of the Mars rover should be used for maintenance. According to NASA, the microphone on the chassis is in a good position to pick up the noise from tires and other systems.
At the US space agency, the project is compared to a mechanic who listens to the engine of a car in order to find faults. “We would like to hear these noises regularly,” explains Vandi Verma, “Perseverance” chief engineer for robot operations at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and emphasizes that on earth people are already looking for “changes in the noise patterns” of the test rover in order to avoid problems early on to recognize.
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Nasa rover “Perseverance” is supposed to send Mars soil samples to Earth
The rover “Perseverance” has the big task of finding signs of previous microbiological life. He will also characterize the geology and the earlier climate of the red planet and prepare for future human exploration of Mars with technology demonstrations such as the “Ingenuity” helicopter or the “MOXIE” experiment. Another important task of the rover is to collect suitable soil samples and store them for a later Mars mission. In the future, a joint mission by NASA and the European space agency Esa is to bring the samples back to Earth, where they will be examined by humans.
Most recently, the Mars rover “Perseverance” made a key observation: even before it had moved away from its landing site for the first time, it sent evidence to Earth that the Jezero crater was once a lake that was fed by a river. (tab)