Hear the sound of a dust devil swirling across Mars: ScienceAlert

The sounds of Mars can be as hauntingly alien as one would hope for on another world. The rumble of occasional meteorite impacts, the groan of the trembling ground, the whisper of an endless wind.

Now we get a front row seat to the approach and retreat of a roaring devil, combing the surface and helping drive the cycle of dust through the atmosphere and around the small, rust-stained world.

Perseverance was the first rover to reach the surface of Mars with a working microphone, and the instrument has been put to good use since the rover landed in February 2021. The microphone is part of a suite of recording tools on the rover known as SuperCam.

Thanks to this innovative technology, for the first time we can hear what a small swirl of dust sounds like on another planet. It’s scary and short and pretty awesome at the same time.

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“We can learn a lot more with sound than with some other tools,” says planetary scientist Roger Wiens of Purdue University in Indiana.

“They take measurements at regular intervals.”

“With the microphone, we can’t quite sample at the speed of sound, but we can sample almost 100,000 times per second. It helps us get a better sense of what Mars is like.”

Perseverance’s mic actually only records for three minutes a day: this is the first time it’s been on when a dust devil has passed, though other instruments have recorded nearly 100 other hurricanes where the rover is stationed in the Jezero crater.

The dust devil flew over the rover 27 September 2021 – the 215th Martian Day (or Sol) of his mission. Scientists estimate the size of the dust devil was about 25 meters (just over 80 feet) wide while it would have been at least 118 meters (387 feet) tall.

By combining photographs with readings of wind, pressure, temperature and dust, Perseverance was also able to track the speed of the passing mini-Mars tornado 19 kilometers (12 miles) away. per hour.

six horizontal black and white landscape images with purple and yellow highlights of the dust devil's approach
The rover’s navcam observations of the dust devil encounter. (Murdoch et al., nature communication, 2022)

“This chance dust devil encounter demonstrates the potential of acoustic data to resolve the fast wind structure of the Martian atmosphere,” Wiens and colleagues write in their article.

The surrounding winds would have been faster, and in the recording you can hear the stillness that reflects the calm eye of that particular tiny storm. Part of what makes the new information valuable is comparing it to events like this on Earth.

“The wind is fast — about 25 miles per hour, but about what you would see in a dust devil on Earth,” says Wiens. “The difference is that the air pressure on Mars is so much lower that the winds are just as fast, but they are the same wind speed on Earth at about 1 percent of the pressure.”

“It’s not a strong wind, but it’s clear enough to kick up sand particles to make a dust devil.”

All of the data we are currently collecting on Mars is useful for a variety of reasons. For one, it gives us a better idea of ​​how the planet evolved, which in turn gives scientists clues as to how other planets in the universe might evolve as well.

Among those other planets is Earth, and since Mars is our closest planetary neighbor, our stories are closely intertwined. Comparing Earth and Mars gives us a better idea of ​​the past and future of both planets.

There is also humanity’s ambition to one day set foot on Mars. Records like these point to the kind of conditions we can expect and how those conditions can be protected or exploited — such as how the wind might naturally remove solar panels.

“Just like on Earth, Mars has different weather conditions in different areas,” says Wiens. “Using all of our instruments and tools, especially the microphone, helps us get a concrete sense of what it would be like to be on Mars.”

The research was published in nature communication.

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