Perseverance has already made its mark on scientific history by taking the first audio recording ever on Mars. But the instrument with the microphone, known as the SuperCam, wasn’t done there. It has plenty of other science to do, and recently it started running through some more preliminary tests. One of those tests happened to involve blasting a rock with a laser – while taking an audio recording of it.
SuperCam itself is the brainchild of scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and a consortium of European research universities with the French Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES) leading the way. It’s touted as a successor to the ChemCam launched on Curiosity. But its capabilities are much improved, as evidenced by it’s audio recordings.
There are 5 main recording instruments integrated into the SuperCam that accomplish its primary mission of understanding the chemical makeup of rocks and soil. These instruments include the microphone, a visible and infrared sensor (VISIR), and a Raman spectrometer, which uses a green laser to zap rocks and analyze the signal emitted from the chemical bonds the laser zap breaks.
Part of what makes SuperCam so unique is that all of these instruments work in concert together. VISIR can analyze the visual and infrared light emitted from a rock at the green laser of the spectrometer blasts it, all while the microphone picks up a recording, as it did recently. Analyzing the integrated data will hopefully be more useful, adding the microphone’s recording to the spectrometers analysis could add validity to what either individual instrument might observe by themselves.
So far data has only just started coming in, so no real science or analysis has been released on it yet. But pictures and audio recordings can provide their own beautiful portrait of another world, whether or not they have been analyzed. That is exactly what Perseverance has been particularly good at providing so far. With luck, its systems, including the SuperCam, will continue to operate outstandingly for the duration of the mission and hopefully much longer than that.
NASA – Perseverance Rover’s SuperCam Science Instrument Delivers First Results
BBC – Nasa’s Perseverance Mars rover listens to its rock-zapping laser
SciAm – Perseverance Mars Rover Records Sound of Rock-Zapping Laser
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Close up view of target rock from the first SuperCam laser experiment.
Credit: NASA / JPL- Caltech / LANL / CNES / CNRS / ASU / MSSS