When the Perseverance rover was recording audio, it had its microphone turned on when a massive 18-meter (about 390 feet) sandstorm swept by.
Dust Devil on Mars
NASA has recorded the sound of a Martian windstorm for the first time ever. A NASA rover was listening to music when a whirlwind of red sand flew past, capturing the noise.
It is about 10 minutes of not only strong winds of up to 40 kilometers per hour (25 miles per hour) but the pings of hundreds of tiny grains of sand hitting the rover Curiosity. Scientists released the first-of-its-kind sound recording Tuesday.
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“We hit the jackpot” when the rover’s microphone picked up the noise made by the dust devil overhead, the study’s lead author Naomi Murdoch of the University of Toulouse, told AFP.
What Did It Sound Like?
It sounded remarkably similar to the sound of sandstorms on Earth, although quieter because the thinner atmosphere on Mars makes for less powerful winds.
The dust devil came by quickly last summer, so we didn’t get long enough for an interview. However, the rover’s navigation camera took pictures, and its meteorological instruments gathered data.
“It was fully caught red handed by Persy,” said co-authors German Martinez of the Lunar & Planetary Institute in Houston.
For the First Time Ever
Photographed for decades by NASA’s rovers on Mars, but never recorded sound, until now, when they finally did manage to record audio of them!
On September 27, 2021, by chance, a dust devil 118 meters tall and 25 meters wide passed right over the rover, traveling at 5 meters per second.
As the dust devil whirled past, the mic recorded 308 “pings” from the dust particles.
Given that the rover’s SuperCam microphone was activated for less than 3 minutes per day, Murdoch said it was “definitely lucky” that the wind gust appeared when it did. It estimates there was just a 1 in 200 probability of capturing wind gust sound.
There was just one dust storm recorded during the entire time period covered by the study.
“When we hear the wind coming from the direction of the dust devil, we know it has arrived. But when we are inside the dust devil, there is no sound.”
When the microphone passes through the first and second walls of the dust devil, it sounds different.
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Impact of the Dust
She added that the sound of the dust made by the wind was used to help scientists understand the structure and behavior of the whirlwind.
It might also be able to explain why there are so many mysterious whirlwinds on Mars.
But in other areas of the world, the whirlwind moves through without creating much dust. “They’re just moving air,” Murdoch added, saying that we don’t know why.
For example, the Solar Panels of NASA’s InSight Lander are “covered in dust” because they’re located at a spot where they cannot benefit from these natural vacuums.
Knowing why this happens could be useful for scientists who want to build a model of dusty storms that could predict where they’re likely to occur next.
The same microphones on Perseverance‘s masts recorded the first sounds from Mars shortly after landing in February 2021.
They followed up with the sound of the rover moving around and its companion helicopter flying nearby, as well as the crackling of the rover’s laser beams, which were the main reason for the microphones.
Exploring the Atmosphere on Mars
These recordings show us just how valuable acoustic measurements can be for studying the atmosphere of Mars.
Planetary scientists say they’ve found evidence that Mars’ surface interacts with its thin atmosphere.
Billions of years ago, the atmosphere was much thicker than it is today, allowing for the presence of liquid (or even gaseous) Earth-like oceans.
“You may think that looking at the Martian climate now has nothing to do with searching for signs of life from billions of years ago,” he added.
“However, it is all a result of a single event — the impact of an asteroid — which caused the entire atmosphere to be stripped away.”
Perseverance has been collecting water from Jezero Crater since January 2016. NASA hopes to bring back some of the water to Earth in 10 years’ time. The helicopter Ingenuality has flown 36 times, the longest lasting nearly 3 minutes.
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