14 December 2022

Mars rover captures first sound of dust devil on red planet

14 December 2022

A Nasa rover has recorded the sound of a red dust devil whizzing past on Mars.

The 10-second first-of-its-kind audio was released on Tuesday and captures not only rumbling gusts of up to 25mph but also the pinging of hundreds of dust particles against the rover Perseverance.

It sounds similar to dust devils on Earth – although quieter since Mars’ thin atmosphere makes for more muted sounds and less forceful wind, researchers say.

The dust devil passed over Perseverance quickly last year, thus the short length of the audio, said the University of Toulouse’s Naomi Murdoch, lead author of the study appearing in Nature Communications.

At the same time, the navigation camera on the parked rover captured images, while its weather-monitoring instrument collected data.

“It was fully caught red-handed by Persy,” said co-author German Martinez of the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston.

Photographed for decades on Mars but never heard until now, dust devils are common on the red planet.

This one was in the average range: at least 400 feet tall and 80 feet across, travelling at five metres a second.

The microphone picked up 308 dust pings as the dust devil whipped by, said Ms Murdoch, who helped build it.

Given the rover’s SuperCam microphone is turned on for less than three minutes every few days, she said it is “definitely luck” the dust devil appeared when it did on September 27 2021.

She estimates there was just a one-in-200 chance of capturing dust-devil audio.

Of the 84 minutes collected in the rover’s first year, there’s “only one dust devil recording”, she wrote in an email from France.

The same microphone on Perseverance’s mast provided the first sounds from Mars — namely the Martian wind — soon after the rover landed in February 2021.

It followed up with audio of the rover driving around and its companion helicopter, little Ingenuity, flying nearby, as well as the crackle of the rover’s rock-zapping lasers – the main reason for the microphone.

These recordings allow scientists to study the Martian wind, atmospheric turbulence and now dust movement as never before, Ms Murdoch said.

The results “demonstrate just how valuable acoustic data can be in space exploration”.

On the prowl for rocks which might contain signs of ancient microbial life, Perseverance has collected 18 samples so far at Jezero Crater, once the scene of a river delta.

Nasa plans to return these samples to Earth a decade from now.

Ingenuity has logged 36 flights, with the longest lasting almost three minutes.

The best videos delivered daily

Watch the stories that matter, right from your inbox