NASA has released the first-ever recording of a rover driving across the surface of Mars.
Perseverance, which arrived on the Martian surface in February 2021 on a two-year mission to search for signs of ancient life, can be heard making its way along the dusty, rock-strewn ground — though the sound is unusual, to say the least.
“Hear that? That’s the sound of me driving over Martian rocks,” Perseverance said in a tweet accompanying a short audio clip, adding, “This is the first time we’ve captured sounds while driving on Mars.”
???? Hear that? That’s the sound of me driving over Martian rocks. This is the first time we’ve captured sounds while driving on Mars.
— NASA's Perseverance Mars Rover (@NASAPersevere) March 17, 2021
The noise — mostly a mix of clangs, pings, and rumbles — certainly doesn’t sound like any other vehicle you have come across.
“If I heard these sounds driving my car, I’d pull over and call for a tow,” said Dave Gruel, lead engineer for Mars 2020’s EDL Camera and Microphone subsystem. “But if you take a minute to consider what you’re hearing and where it was recorded, it makes perfect sense.”
Vandi Verma, a senior engineer and rover driver at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which is overseeing the Mars mission, said: “A lot of people, when they see the images, don’t appreciate that the [rover’s] wheels are metal. When you’re driving with these wheels on rocks, it’s actually very noisy.”
You can listen to an extended version of the audio in the embedded player below, although this raw recording includes a mysterious high-pitch scratching sound that was filtered out of the shorter clip above.
The agency is puzzled by the high-pitch noise and is currently looking into the cause. Early investigations suggest it could be either electromagnetic interference from one of Perseverance’s electronics boxes, or interactions between the rover mobility system and the Martian surface.
NASA points out that the audio was recorded by an “off the shelf” entry, descent, and landing microphone that was not actually intended for surface operations and therefore had limited testing in this configuration prior to launch.
This is NASA’s first Mars rover mission to include microphones, and the sound of Perseverance driving across Mars’ Jezero Crater is the latest in a series of recordings released by the space agency.
A second microphone that’s part of the rover’s SuperCam instrument picked up the sound of Martian wind (below), while another recording features the rapid ticking sound of the instrument’s laser zapping rocks in work to reveal their structure and composition.
“Such information will help scientists as they search Jezero Crater for signs of ancient microscopic life, taking samples of rock and sediment to be returned to Earth by future missions,” NASA said.
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