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Once Mars Polar Lander touches down on Mars and starts beaming the Mars Microphone data to Earth, humankind will hear -- for the first time -- sounds from the Red Planet.
Will we hear anything on Mars? After all, the Martian atmosphere, which is mostly carbon dioxide, is about a hundred times thinner than Earths -- effectively a vacuum compared to the air we breathe. Yet the tenuous Martian winds are substantial enough to sculpt dunes, entrain thin clouds, raise global dust storms, and even strike up miniature tornadoes called dust devils. This thin atmosphere will surely create and carry sounds.
What kinds of sounds? Janet Luhman, who heads up the team that built the instrument at the University of California at Berkeleys Space Sciences Laboratory, expects the microphone to capture a variety of natural and artificial sounds. Luhman has pointed out that dust devils, gusts, and even lightning caused by dust storms should all be audible.
The wind speeds inferred by the whistling spacecraft structure can be combined with the sound of dust grains hitting the sides of the spacecraft to investigate how it lifts different-sized grains. The microphone may also detect rare events such as sonic booms caused by meteors, and possibly infrasonic waves kicked up by the solar wind as it strikes the upper atmosphere. And the microphone will surely hear the daily sounds of the spacecraft itself.
Thus this little microphone, operating over a span of weeks, will gradually build up a new dimension in our understanding of Mars. Greg Delory, also of the Space Sciences Laboratory, has pointed out that like most new instruments, the Mars microphone will probably detect things that take us completely by surprise. These surprises will most likely be the instruments most important findings.
This web page will present these findings as they come from the lander. You will be able to listen to these sounds of Mars on your computer using RealPlayer G2. Other sound-file formats will be made available later. Keep checking this web site for more details.