In absence of (yet) being able to step foot on Mars, we have robotic vicarious experiences through our rovers including Perseverance which landed this past February 18th. In addition to photos we’ve collected from the surface over the decades, our ever-improving data connection to Mars made it possible to see video from Perseverance’s landing. That dramatic unfurl of the parachute and dust spray of the landing thrusters – astonishing! I’m not ashamed to admit I cried. Through Perseverance we’re also experiencing Mars exploration with another sense – SOUND! Sound from another planet!! Using Perseverance’s Entry, Descent, and Landing Microphone (EDL Mic) we recently recorded audio of Perseverance’s wheels rolling across the Martian regolith (broken rocks and dust or “soil”). The audio segment below is an edited portion of sound highlights from a longer 16 minute raw audio file.
And if you didn’t catch the video of Perseverance’s landing here it is!
Vandi Verma, Senior engineer and rover driver at NASA JPL, notes Percy’s wheels are quite loud given they are metal rather than rubber. The rover’s wheel design has also been upgraded from the previous rover, Curiosity. Both rovers feature wheels of flight-grade aluminum with titanium spokes. As Mars rocks experience little weathering, they feature sharp edges and have inflicted damage to Curiosity’s wheels over course of its mission. As a result, rover operators changed how/where they are navigating. Perseverance’s wheel design features a thicker aluminum than Curiosity (1mm vs 0.75mm) and a new tread design. In testing, the new tread was shown to be more resilient to sharp rocks and increased Perseverance’s traction over that of Curiosity’s.
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The rover’s wheels grinding against Martial soil are not the only sounds captured from the surface. Perseverance has a second microphone attached to its SuperCam, an all-in-one camera, microphone, and LASER designed to search for organic compounds indicative of past life on Mars. The laser can hit rocks at a distance of 7 meters clearing off surface dust allowing SuperCam a clean scan of the target. Perseverance touched down at the Octavia Butler landing zone within Jezero Crater due to the crater’s ancient identity as a lake billions of years ago. Where there was water, there may have been life, and SuperCam will be able to identify soil types that have possibly preserved ancient microbial fossil samples. SuperCam’s onboard microphone monitors the firing of its laser but has also captured Martian wind! I got chills listening to this. You’re hearing the atmosphere of another world!
Audio of Martian Wind from Perseverance Rover’s SuperCam c. NASA/JPL
Perseverance is currently driving about searching for a suitable location to deploy its companion, Ingenuity – the first flying rover we’ve ever sent to another world. Once an “airfield” has been located, Ingenuity will begin a 30 Sols (A Martian day lasting 24 hours 39 minutes) evaluation period with five planned test flights. When test flights are complete, Perseverance and Ingenuity will begin their primary mission searching for signs of ancient life. As part of the mission, Perseverance will be packing and storing Martian soil samples for a future return journey to Earth. Eventually these samples can be opened and examined in labs on our own planet…doesn’t AT ALL sound like the start to a sci-fi film.
As Perseverance continues to rover around Mars, you can actually stay updated on its real-time location using the “Where is Perseverance” website. In the meantime, we’re all waiting anxiously for Ingenuity’s first flight. Stay tuned!
Feature Image: Some of Perseverance’s first tire tracks as captured by one of Percy’s “hazcams” or Hazard Avoidance Cameras. c. NASA/JPL