Open Mic on Mars


October 18, 2021

NASA's Perseverance Mars rover carries two microphones which are directly recording sounds on the Red Planet, including the Ingenuity helicopter and the rover itself at work. For the very first time, these audio recordings offer a new way to experience the planet.

Earth and Mars have different atmospheres, which affects the way sound is heard. Justin Maki, a scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Nina Lanza, a scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, explain some of the notable audio recorded on Mars in this video.

For more information on Perseverance, visit https://mars.nasa.gov/perseverance.

Transcript:

Nina Lanza (00:02):
On NASA's Perseverance Mars rover, we have not one but two microphones. And these microphones are the very first instruments of their kind ever to go to Mars.
I'm Nina Lanza, and I'm a scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Justin Maki (00:16):
Hi, I'm Justin Maki, an imaging scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. One of the microphones is mounted on the mast and moves around as we point the cameras. The other microphone is mounted to the rover body and it stays fixed onto the port side of the rover.

Nina Lanza (00:29):
The two microphones that we sent were commercial off-the-shelf items. So these are things that you could just buy on the internet and we put these on our rover.

Justin Maki (00:37):
It gives us a new dimension for which we can explore Mars and learn about the Martian environment.

Nina Lanza (00:43):
First, we can just learn about the atmosphere by understanding how sound propagates through it, but we can also listen to the sounds of rover analyses on rocks and learn about rock material properties from that. And finally, we can also listen to the sounds the rover makes to understand better the state of health of our instruments.

Justin Maki (01:01):
There's a difference between Mars and earth sounds. Sounds on earth have very rich harmonics. You can hear multiple frequencies. It gets a really nice depth to the sound. On Mars the atmosphere attenuates a lot of those higher frequencies. So you tend to hear the lower frequencies and it's a much more isolated sound, a little more muted than the sounds we hear on earth.

Nina Lanza (01:25):
We put together a list of some of the sounds we've recorded on Mars to date. So let's take a listen.

Justin Maki (01:30):
This is the sound of wind on Mars. For the first time, we can hear the wind blowing across the surface of Mars to go along with all of the images that we've acquired, of dust devils and dust storms, over the many years of exploration on the surface.

Nina Lanza (01:50):
This is the sound of the rover driving on Mars. This sound might be a little bit weird, because it doesn't sound like a regular driving sound, but that's because the rover's wheels are made of metal. So this metal is rolling over rocks and sand and it makes this really clanky, squeaky sound.

Justin Maki (02:12):
Next we have the SuperCam laser zapping rocks. We've taken a lot of pictures of rocks that have been zapped by the SuperCam. The little marks in the rocks. And for the first time we can hear these laser shots.

Nina Lanza (02:25):
When it zaps a rock, it actually makes a sound. We can listen to that sound and learn something about the properties of the rock that we're analyzing. This is one of my absolute favorite sounds. This is the sound of a helicopter flying on Mars. We used this sound to actually understand the propagation of sound in general through the Martian atmosphere. And it turns out that we were totally wrong with our models. The Martian atmosphere can propagate sound a lot further than we thought it could. We've all seen these beautiful images that we get from Mars, but having sound to be able to add to those images, it makes me feel like I'm almost right there on the surface.

Credits
NASA/JPL-Caltech

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