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Perseverance rover on the surface of Mars
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Mars Rover Perseverance Takes First Extraterrestrial Sound Recording

The rover captured the sound of dust devils in Jezero Crater, the rover’s landing spot

Holden Galusha

Holden Galusha is the associate editor for Lab Manager. He was a freelance contributing writer for Lab Manager before being invited to join the team full-time. Previously, he was the...

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On December 13, NASA announced that the Perseverance rover has captured the first audio recording of another planet. Outfitted with the first microphone ever sent to another planet, the Perseverance rover captured the sound of dust devils whirling about Mars’ Jezero Crater, where Perseverance originally landed. According to the groundbreaking study, published in Nature Communications, the rover’s “dust devil encounter demonstrates the potential of acoustic data for resolving the rapid wind structure of the Martian atmosphere and for directly quantifying wind-blown grain fluxes” on the red planet.

According to study author Roger Wiens, who also serves as the principal investigator of Perseverance’s suite of sensors and analytical tools called SuperCam, “We can learn a lot more using sound than we can with some of the other tools. They take readings at regular intervals. The microphone lets us sample, not quite at the speed of sound, but nearly 100,000 times a second. It helps us get a stronger sense of what Mars is like.” Although Perseverance’s microphone only runs for about three minutes every few days, what it captures can be highly valuable, especially when analyzed in conjunction with other sensory data. For instance, the new dust devil recording along with barometric readings and time-lapse photos will allow researchers to have a much fuller idea of the Martian environment than what was previously possible. “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,” Wiens said.

This information is already providing insight useful for future missions. It indicates that future astronauts to Mars will not have to worry about strong winds damaging equipment or habitats—in fact, it may be beneficial as it blows grit and dirt off solar panels. This natural solar panel maintenance may have contributed to the long lifespans of past rovers Opportunity and Spirit. “Those rover teams,” Wiens said, “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.”

As Perseverance journeys on, its suite of sensors and analytical equipment should enable scientists to piece together a fuller picture of what life on Mars would look like for humans.