Listen to the Martian weather, recorded by the Perseverance rover

Listen to the Martian weather, recorded by the Perseverance rover

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A tall swirl of dust passed right over the Perseverance rover as it explored the site of an ancient lake on Mars, and the rover recorded the first sounds of this Martian dust devil. using your microphone.

Dust devils, or dust eddies, are common on Mars and are part of the red planet’s weather patterns.

Other missions have collected images, meteorological data and dust measurements of these events, and NASA’s InSight lander even recorded seismic and magnetic signals created by the dust devils. But sound has been the missing element, until now.

When the Perseverance rover landed on Mars in February 2021, it became the first mission to carry microphones on a trip to the red planet.

The robotic rover’s SuperCam microphone turned on and recorded on Sept. 27, 2021, when a dust devil passed directly over the rover, according to a new study published Tuesday in the journal. Communications of nature.

During an 11-second clip captured by the microphone, there are two periods of low-frequency wind as the front and back walls of the dust devil pass over the rover, said the study’s lead author, Dr Naomi Murdoch, researcher at the University of Toulouse in Languedoc. Institute of Aeronautics and Space.

Between the walls of the vortex is a period of calm when the rover was in the eye of the vortex, Murdoch said.

Crackling and hissing sounds can be heard during the event, which were determined to be dust grains hitting the rover.

The researchers were able to count the dust devil particles when they hit the rover, leading to an entirely new type of measurement on the Red Planet, Murdoch said. It is the first time that an instrument is able to quantify the accumulated dust on Mars.

Images and other data sent back by the rover also confirmed what happened. When the researchers put together all the elements collected by the rover, they determined that the dust devil reached more than 387 feet (118 meters) tall and spanned 82 feet (25 meters) wide, about 10 times larger than the rover itself. Although it looks like a massive eddy, it’s the average size of Martian dust devils, Murdoch said.

The researchers were surprised to find that dust accumulated inside the dust devil, rather than just being carried inside the outer walls, possible because the dust devil was still in the process of forming as it moved. about perseverance

Dust devils serve as indicators of turbulence in the Martian atmosphere and play an important role in the Martian dust cycle.

This figure shows the size of the dust devil relative to the Perseverance rover.

Learning more about how dust rises and moves on the Red Planet, a key feature of its weather and climate, since dust is its main feature, can help scientists better understand the formation and evolution of dust storms

A dust storm surrounding the planet is what ended the 15-year mission of the Opportunity rover in 2018.

“Global dust storms are important to understanding the Martian climate,” Murdoch said. “Acoustic measurements of dust impacts and dust upwelling will therefore improve our understanding of dust devils and also help improve Martian climate models. Understanding dust upwelling is also critical for space missions due to possible damage to the hardware.”

Perseverance’s wind sensors have already been damaged by elevated dust particles likely carried by the wind or a dust devil, Murdoch said.

The rover captured images of the encounter with the dust devil using its navigation camera.

Dust devils are reputed to be both helpful and harmful on Mars.

The The InSight lander mission is expected to end this month after spending four years studying earthquakes and other phenomena on the red planet. Layers of dust have built up on its solar panels, preventing the spacecraft from collecting enough energy to continue operating its instruments.

Dust devils appear frequently in Jezero Crater, where Perseverance landed, but seem to be absent from InSight’s home on the flat plain of Elysium Planitia, and researchers don’t know why.

“In InSight’s case, dust has settled from the atmosphere onto the solar panels. However, since there are no eddies capable of lifting dust in InSight’s region, the eddies are not able to ‘clean “solar panels”.

Other missions to Mars have benefited from periodic cleanings of dust devils, which acted as vacuum cleaners for dust collected on the solar-powered Spirit and Opportunity rovers, giving them a longer lifespan than expected. ‘I expected.

From its perch atop a ridge, Opportunity recorded this image of a Martian dust devil.

Superior Institute of Aeronautics and Space of the University of Toulouse, known as ISAE-SUPAERO, built the microphone that sits on Perseverance. Every month, Murdoch and his team collect eight recordings of about 167 seconds each.

“We estimate that a single microphone observation during the midday period (the time of day when there is most dust devil activity) has only a 1 in 200 chance of recording a dust devil like the one we found.” , Murdoch said. “We’ve definitely been lucky, but we’ve also carefully focused the instrument’s observations to increase the chance of success.”

More microphone recordings could capture additional dust devils, and Murdoch’s team is using acoustic recordings to measure atmospheric turbulence to determine their extent on Mars.

The SuperCam microphone was originally included to listen as instruments on the rover zap rocks to determine their properties, but its acoustic data is also illustrating the possibilities for atmospheric science on the Red Planet, Murdoch said.

“All these measurements and analyzes highlight how valuable acoustic data are in planetary exploration. Therefore, in parallel, at ISAE-SUPAERO, we are developing the next generation of acoustic sensors that will be sent to other planetary bodies with atmosphere in the future,” he said.

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