Listen to the first audio recordings ever taken on Mars
We’ve seen photos and videos of Mars for decades, but now NASA has released the very first audio clips recorded on the Red Planet. The Perseverance playlist includes the sounds of Martian wind, a laser zapping rocks, and the crunch of gravel under the rover’s metal wheels.
When Perseverance successfully touched down on Mars on February 18, it was packing two microphones among its suite of sensors. Just 18 hours after landing, it used the mic in its SuperCam instrument to make the first ever audio recording on Mars – the muffled sounds of the wind blowing.
On March 2, this SuperCam microphone picked up about 30 clicking sounds, as the rover fired a laser at a rock about 3.1 m (10 ft) away. The differences in the sounds they produce can give scientists an insight into the structure and composition of those rocks.
Perseverance also carries a second mic, dubbed the entry, descent and landing (EDL) microphone. This instrument was only intended to record during … well, the entry, descent and landing, but since it was still functional the scientists tested out what else it might capture.
On March 7, the rover used the EDL mic to record 16 minutes of sounds as it drove 27.3 m (90 ft). The recording captured a variety of scratches, squeaks, clunks, and bangs – a symphony resulting from driving over loose dirt and larger rocks, the robot’s suspension, and some electromagnetic interference from other instruments. The microphone was, after all, not intended to be used this way.
“If I heard these sounds driving my car, I’d pull over and call for a tow,” says Dave Gruel, lead engineer for the EDL Camera and Microphone subsystem. “But if you take a minute to consider what you’re hearing and where it was recorded, it makes perfect sense.”
It may be somewhat surprising that these are the very first audio recordings of Mars. Perseverance is actually the third probe to carry microphones – the Mars Polar Lander and Phoenix Lander both had them, but the former mission failed and the latter just never bothered turning on its mic.
The InSight Lander is the closest we’ve come to Martian audio in the past. The craft is designed to pick up vibrations of “Marsquakes” – and sound is, after all, just vibrations really. In December 2018, while the instruments were still stowed, InSight picked up vibrations as the wind rattled its solar panels. NASA boosted the frequency and released it as quote-unquote audio.
One month on Mars and Perseverance is already making some fascinating finds. We can’t wait to see what it does next.