Phoenix Lander Will Listen to the Sounds of Mars

Article written: 1 Oct , 2008
Updated: 24 Dec , 2015
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We may be able to hear, for the first time, what it sounds like on the surface of Mars. The Phoenix Lander has a microphone on board, which will be switched on in upcoming days of operations. “This is definitely a first,” said Phoenix principal investigator Peter Smith. The microphone is a part of the Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) system on the underside of the lander designed to take images of Mars’ surface during the lander’s descent. However, the system was never used. Tests of the system during the flight to Mars revealed the possibility that using it might cause other parts of the landing system to not function correctly. But using it later wasn’t ruled out. So, after updated software is sent to the lander, the microphone will be turned on.

You may recall, Mars Express recorded the sounds of Phoenix descending (which sounded like Phoenix was screaming in delight!) But now we may be able to hear the sounds of Mars itself – a truly wondrous possibility.

There’s no guarantee the microphone will work, however. Once the system is checked and updated, the team plans to attempt turning the microphone on while the lander is digging or using the rasp on end of its robotic arm scoop, “just to make sure we hear something,” Smith said. “You at least want to know if there’s a chance of noise being created.”

No one knows what Mars sounds like, and Phoenix scientists aren’t sure how well the microphone will be able to pick up any noise. Smith said the microphone is similar to what is used on a standard cell phone. Also, sound waves don’t travel on Mars as they do Earth because of Mars’ thin atmosphere. It would be similar to listening to sound at an altitude of about 30,500 meters (100,000 feet) above Earth’s surface, Smith said.

If the team can hear Phoenix’s operations, then they’ll turn the microphone on while Phoenix is quiet and wait for any sounds.
View under the lander on Sol 8.  Credit: NASA/JPL/Caltech/U of AZ
Additionally, the descent imager might be turned on, as well. This provides the opportunity to take close up images directly underneath the lander, where the “Holy Cow” feature – which appears to be a large chunk of ice – is located.
Clumps "growing" on Phoenix's legs.  Credit: NASA/JPL/Caltech/ U of AZ
The imager might also be able to look at the clumps of materials that appear to be “growing” on Phoenix’s legs. The clumps are probably bits of Mars soil that “splashed” up on the legs during landing, but some of the clumps have moved around and appear to be increasing in size over the duration of the mission. Mission scientists aren’t sure what the clumps are and why they have such unusual behavior.

“It’s one of those wonderful Martian mysteries,” Smith said.

Post Script & Corrections: Thanks to Emily Lakdawalla of the Planetary Society for providing the correct image and information of the MARDI! The first image I had posted was of the Mars Microphone that the Planetary Society sent along with the Mars Polar Lander mission in 1999. Also, I incorrectly stated that the MARDI instrument was the same as the Mars Microphone on the MPL.

Sources: Planetary Blog, Space.com


6 Responses

  1. Tom says

    I hope they move the arm so we can hear the motor running, the scraping sound of the shovel in the dirt while the wind blows. 🙂

  2. Maudyfish says

    Ooookaay little Martians, stand up and say “hello” for all the poeple on earth!!!

    On a serious note, this is grand!!!!

  3. alandee says

    Yes, but where can i get a black swiss army knife !!
    Seriously, excellent, i love the whole, “hang on .. didn’t we put a web cam on this thing ?” .. “hey folks, whatever happened to the microphone we were going to use .. ” “oh no, Side A is out! … meh, maybe if we fire up side B ..”. Shows how over designed and brilliantly engineered all of the exploratory units are.
    Bring it on !

  4. Awesome! I can’t wait to hear that sound.

  5. martian phoenix muncher says

    heh,heh,heh,I have been waiting long nigh for some earthlings to send a phoenix for me to devour,now at laast my wishhh haas come true,heh,heh.Why do you think the soil is so red up here eh! You might hear me breathing thru the microphone as i munch up the iron content of the old dead bird.You may have noticed that i have been growing on your legs phoenix,hah,hah,ha when the martian winter sets in i will enjoy a frozen phoenix Martian polar earth snack,Hah,hah,harrrrr keep trying earthlings I can wait.It’s ironic that you have found a little ice on Mars when you have no ice left on your own polar caps is’nt it you fools, youv’e laid waste to your own planet and now you want to come and destroy mine well we will see about that.Send some more spacecraft for me to eat heathens.Why you’d better start devising a non warlike platform for planetary discourse before you can even begin to be considered for the interplanetary federation of peace loving planets and make sure its a decent microphone if you really want to hear my phoenix munching activities so long until next time, and dont send any robots or I will be forced to eat them too!

  6. Faerie says

    Hello just wondering if anyone knows when the mic will start recording and where I can listen to it at. Thanks!

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