October 2, 2022
Analysis of Mars Audio Reveals Different Rules for Sound on the Red Planet

It’s been nearly 50 years since the Viking 1 lander snapped the first image from the surface of Mars. And yet, until recently, that landscape remained silent to the human ear. Now, thanks to two microphones aboard the Perseverance rover, researchers can tune in from more than a million miles away to probe the Red Planet’s alien atmosphere and unique sound propagation patterns.

Fields such as astronomy and astrophysics have long surveyed outer space using the electromagnetic spectrum — from gamma rays to radio waves and everything in between. By contrast, the acoustic exploration of the universe has only just begun. 

Although we use sound waves here on Earth to map the ocean floor, infer wind patterns, track lightning, and accomplish other tasks, NASA has only ever equipped a few missions with dedicated microphones. The first bound for Mars in 1999 literally crashed and burned, and the second, launched in 2007, had technical issues. It wasn’t until early 2021 when Perseverance touched down that the researchers listening in could start to piece together the Martian soundscape. (Anyone can listen to the eerie audio recordings on NASA’s site.) They shared their findings in a study published on April 1 in the journal Nature.

It took some coaxing to convince NASA that the microphones were a worthwhile addition to Perseverance’s payload, says Baptiste Chide, one of the study’s lead authors and a postdoc at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

» continue to Discover Magazine