Cape Canaveral, Florida –
What do dust storms on Mars sound like? As a swirling tower of red dust passed directly overhead, a NASA rover accidentally switched on its microphones and recorded the racket.
For about 10 seconds, not only were rumbling gusts of up to 25 mph (40 km/h), but hundreds of dust particles slammed into the Perseverance rover. Scientists released the first such audio on Tuesday.
According to the researchers, it sounds eerily similar to dust storms on Earth, but is quieter thanks to Mars’ thinner atmosphere, which makes the sound softer and less windy.
Naomi Murdoch of the University of Toulouse said last year the dust storm that came and went quickly ended Perseverance, so the length of the audio was short. Meanwhile, a navigation camera on the parked rover captured images, while its weather-monitoring instruments collected data.
“It was completely caught on the spot by Persy,” said co-author German Martinez of the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston.
Photographed on Mars for decades but never heard of until now, dust storms are common on the Red Planet. This one is in the average range: at least 400 feet (118 meters) tall, 80 feet (25 meters) wide, and traveling at 16 feet (5 meters) per second.
Murdoch, who helped make the microphone, said the microphone picked up 308 pulses of dust as the storm passed by.
Given that the rover’s SuperCam microphone is turned on for less than three minutes every few days, Murdoch said the dust storm was “absolutely lucky” when it showed up on September 27, 2021. She estimates that there is only a 1″-200 chance of capturing dust demon audio.
Of the 84 minutes collected in the first year, “there was only one dust storm recording,” she wrote in an email from France.
Shortly after the rover landed in February 2021, the same microphone on Perseverance’s mast provided the first sound from Mars — the Martian wind. It then played audio of the rover driving around, as well as the sounds of its companion helicopter, the Ingenious, flying nearby, and the popping of the rover’s rock lasers, which were the main reason for the microphone.
These records allow scientists to study Martian winds, atmospheric turbulence and now dust movement in unprecedented ways, Murdoch said. The results “demonstrate the value of acoustic data in space exploration.”
In search of rocks that may contain signs of ancient microbial life, Perseverance has so far collected 18 samples at Jezero Crater, which was once the site of a river delta. NASA plans to return these samples to Earth in a decade. Ingenuity Helicopters has logged 36 flights, with the longest flight lasting nearly three minutes.
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