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Hear sounds from Mars captured by NASA's Perseverance rover

NASA's Perseverance rover has recorded up to five hours of sounds on the Mars, giving engineers a sense of how the Red Planet sounds different from Earth.

NASA now has a Perseverance rover website filling up with Martian audio, ranging from wind gusts to the sounds of rover driving as it seeks spots to hunt for the signs of life on the Red Planet. In March, we even heard its laser "snapping" (sadly, no pew-pew noise was evident.)

"It's like you're really standing there," Baptiste Chide, a planetary scientist who studies data from the Perseverance microphones, said in a statement from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). 

"Martian sounds have strong bass vibrations, so when you put on headphones, you can really feel it. I think microphones will be an important asset to future Mars and solar system science," added Chide, who works at France's Institute of Research in Astrophysics and Planetology.

Related: Mars helicopter Ingenuity spots Perseverance rover from the air (photo)

A "selfie" of the Perseverance rover, which landed Feb. 18, 2021. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

Perseverance carries two mics around with it. Its Entry, Descent and Landing camera system includes an off-the-shelf commercial mic built by Danish company DPA Microphones. Rover engineers still use the mic to capture sounds on the surface, along with the second mic: another off-the-shelf device built into its rock-zapping SuperCam instrument. 

The SuperCam mics have been especially helpful for JPL to learn more about the environment in Jezero Crater, where Perseverance has been roaming for about seven Earth months. 

"Some of those recordings are teaching scientists about changes in the planet’s atmosphere; after all, sound travels through vibrations in the air," JPL stated. 

"From its perch on Perseverance's mast, the SuperCam mic is ideally located for monitoring 'microturbulence' — minute shifts in the air — and complements the rover's dedicated wind sensors, which are part of a suite of atmospheric tools called MEDA, short for the Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer."

MEDA's sensors are designed to collect samples one to two times a second for up to two hours a time, picking up information on the wind speed, pressure and temperature. On the other hand, SuperCam can ring up data at a rate of 20,000 times per second, but over a much shorter time period of a few minutes, JPL noted.

"It's kind of like comparing a magnifying glass to a microscope with 100 times magnification," Jose Rodriguez-Manfredi, MEDA's principal investigator and a part of Spain's National Institute for Aerospace Technology, said in the same JPL statement. "From the weather scientist's point of view, each perspective – detail and context – complements one another."

One big surprise of the mission was when Perseverance was able to hear the sound of the Ingenuity drone's rotors buzzing April 30 from a distance of 262 feet (80 meters) away. The Martian atmosphere is much less dense than that of Earth's and accordingly, scientists weren't sure they would be able to hear high-pitched sounds at all.

The audio has been useful for investigations ranging from how sound propagates on Mars, and keeping Perseverance well-maintained (in a way similar to listening to a car engine for signs of trouble). 

"We routinely listen for changes in sound patterns on our test rover here on Earth, which can indicate there's an issue that needs attention," Vandi Verma, Perseverance's chief engineer for robotic operations at JPL, said in the same statement.

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Elizabeth Howell

Elizabeth Howell is a contributing writer for Space.com who is one of the few Canadian journalists to report regularly on space exploration. She is the author or co-author of several books on space exploration. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. from the University of North Dakota in Space Studies, and an M.Sc. from the same department. She also holds a bachelor of journalism degree from Carleton University in Canada, where she began her space-writing career in 2004. Besides writing, Elizabeth teaches communications at the university and community college level, and for government training schools. To see her latest projects, follow Elizabeth on Twitter at @howellspace.