These sounds are truly otherworldly.
NASA’s Perseverance rover recorded 60 seconds of Martian sound on Saturday (February 20), just two days after its perfect landing inside Jezero crater. The newly released file, featuring a mechanical rover drone and the rustle of the Red Planet breeze, is the first actual audio ever captured on the surface of a planet other than Earth.
“Really neat, overwhelming, if you will,” Dave Gruel of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California said during a news conference on Monday (February 22). The audio was released during that briefing, as did Amazing video Perseverance captured during its entry, descent and landing (EDL) on February 18.
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Gruel is in charge of Perseverance’s EDL camera system, which includes a standard commercial microphone built by Danish company DPA Microphones. That instrument was supposed to pick up sound during the rover’s “seven terrifying minutes”, but it didn’t, for reasons that Gruel and his colleagues are investigating. However, the microphone came to life very soon, recording the historic sound clip on Saturday.
Perseverance, the heart of NASA’s $ 2.7 billion Mars 2020 mission, also carries a second microphone, one built into its SuperCam instrument.
SuperCam is not yet operational; the team is still performing health checks on Perseverance’s instruments and subsystems. Once SuperCam is online, the microphone will help the mission team characterize the target rocks, revealing how hard they are and if they have a thin layer. The microphone could also capture a variety of other sounds, such as the Martian breeze and the crunch of the earth under Perseverance’s wheels.
Perseverance can record stereo sound on Mars at some point, using the EDL and SuperCam microphones in concert. However, there are no guarantees; The EDL microphone was not optimized for use on the hard, cold Martian surface, so it is unclear how long it will last. Gruel told Space.com last week.
Mars 2020 is an ambitious mission that will advance the exploration of the Red Planet in a number of ways, if all goes according to plan. For example, Perseverance will look for signs of ancient life on Mars in the soil of Jezero, which housed a lake and a river delta billions of years ago. The rover will also collect and cache dozens of samples, which a joint campaign by NASA and the European Space Agency will return to Earth, perhaps already in 2031.
The mission also includes several technology demonstrations. One, an instrument called MOXIE (“Mars Oxygen In Situ Resource Utilization Experiment”), is designed to generate oxygen from the thin Martian atmosphere dominated by carbon dioxide. Another is the Mars helicopter wit, which aims to become the first helicopter to fly in a world beyond Earth.
The Ingenuity test campaign will be the first major activity the mission team undertakes after launching Perseverance. The 4 pound one. (1.8 kilograms) helicopter flights are expected to take place this spring, and one or both microphones could record the historic raids.
High-frequency sounds are attenuated very quickly in Atmosphere of mars, which is only 1% denser than Earth’s. But the microphones could pick up a low-pitched rotor wash, members of the mission team told Space.com.
Such audio will have value beyond the scientific insights it provides, helping bring the Red Planet closer to all of us, Gruel said.
During Monday’s press conference, he told a story about a conversation he had several years ago while touring JPL. One of the tour participants was particularly excited about Perseverance’s planned microphones. Gruel asked why, and she replied that her sister is visually impaired and therefore cannot enjoy photos of the Mars rover in the same way that most of us take for granted.
“And that stuck with me,” Gruel said.
“I wish I had captured that person’s name,” he added. “I’d love to go up to her now and say, ‘We’ve done it. I hope your sister is enjoying it.’
While the newly released recording shows the first true Martian audio, it is not the first sound of any kind captured on the Red Planet. NASA InSight lander I “heard” the martian wind shortly after landing in November 2018, after processing data collected by an air pressure sensor and a seismometer.
Mike Wall is the author of “Out there“(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book on the search for extraterrestrial life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.