Unprecedented audio recordings taken by NASA’s Perseverance rover are transporting us to the surface of the Red Planet, allowing us to hear the sound of a gentle alien breeze and the click of lasers hitting a Martian rock.
We’ve been on the Perseverance mission for exactly three weeks, so it’s still early. The project is in the deployment phase, with the Mars 2020 team systematically deploying each of the rover’s many instruments to ensure they are working properly and configured for the science phase of the mission. Perseverance will spend the next two years or more exploring Jezero Crater, so there’s no need to rush things.
The team recently launched the appropriately named rover SuperCam, in an early taste of the instrument’s tremendous potential. Attached to the mast of the rover, the 12-pound (5.4–kilogram) SuperCam can perform five different types of geological analysis, allowing the team to select the best rocks for sampling.
These explorations are important from a geological perspective, but also from an astrobiological perspective. Rocks in Jezero Crater, an ancient lake, could contain fossils or other biomarkers indicative of earlier microbial life. Considering that the key objective of the current Curiosity mission was to determine if Mars was ever habitable (apparently was), the Perseverance rover is actually looking for evidence of ancient aliens (to be clear, habitability is different than inhabited; Mars may have once fostered the conditions for life, but that doesn’t mean life really took root in the Red planet).
The SuperCam instrument was developed by the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and a consortium of French laboratories led by the Center National d’Etudes Spatiales. The first SuperCam data packet was recently received at the French Space Agency control center in Toulouse. according to a statement from NASA. The newly released images of the SuperCam show a pair of rocks, named Yeehgo and Máaz, in exquisite detail.
“It’s amazing to see that SuperCam works so well on Mars,” Roger Wiens, the principal investigator for SuperCam, said in the statement. “When we first dreamed of this instrument eight years ago, we were concerned that we were too ambitious. Now it’s up there working like a charm. “
Perseverance is also unique in that it is capable of recording sounds on Mars. NASA has provided three different audio samples, including the first acoustic recording of laser shots on Mars and the sound of Martian winds.
Perseverance recorded the laser sounds at a distance of 10 feet (3.1 meters) from the target rock. The clicking sounds produced by laser pulses vary, allowing scientists to infer various physical characteristics of the target, such as hardness.
“SuperCam really gives our rover eyes to see promising rock samples and ears to hear what they sound like when lasers hit them,” explained Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science at NASA.headquarters in Washington, DC, in the statement. “This information will be essential in determining which samples to cache and ultimately returning to Earth through our groundbreaking Mars Sample Return Campaign, which will be one of the most ambitious feats humanity has ever undertaken.”
the future mission Zurbuchen means that it will be quite historical, as the samples cached by Perseverance would represent the first Martian materials returned to Earth for analysis.
The Mars 2020 team has also deployed and received data from the rover’s visible and infrared light. sensor, one of the SuperCam sensors. This instrument collects reflected sunlight, exposing the mineral content of rocks and sediments.
SuperCam ‘s Raman spectrometer it is also producing data, an achievement that now represents the first time spectroscopy has been performed anywhere other than Earth, Olivier Beyssac, CNRS research director at the Institute of Mineralogy, Materials Physics and Cosmochemistry in Paris, said in the NASA statement. Raman spectroscopy works by shooting light, specifically green laser beams, at a target object, such as a rock. This non-destructive technique shows how the light interacts with the chemical bonds on the target, providing information about the object’s chemical structure, internal stress levels, and other information.
“Raman spectroscopy is going to play a crucial role in characterizing minerals to gain a deeper insight into the geological conditions in which they formed and to detect possible organic and mineral molecules that could have been formed by living organisms,” said Beyssac. .
Looking ahead, the Mars 2020 team will continue to test the rover’s driving capabilities (it’s done registered 21.3 feet [6.5 meters]) and choose an airfield from which to deploy the Ingenuity helicopter.