NASA's Mars Perseverance Rover Beams Back First Sounds Ever Recorded On Another Planet

Tuesday, February 23rd 2021, 10:38 am
By: CBS News

NASA's Perseverance rover, which landed on Mars less than one week ago, has beamed back the first-ever audio recordings from the surface of the red planet. 

NASA released the audio clips Monday, along with never-before-seen video footage of the rover landing last Thursday, and the most sophisticated images yet taken of Mars. 

Along with 25 onboard cameras, the rover also carries two microphones. One failed to work during the rover's descent, but the other captured the sounds of the Martian wind blowing past, as well as the whirring noise of the rover itself.

The audio snippet marks the first sound ever recorded on another planet. 

"For those who wonder how you land on Mars – or why it is so difficult – or how cool it would be to do so – you need look no further," said acting NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk. 

In the first recording, sounds from the rover itself are more prominent. In the second, NASA filtered the audio to make sounds from Mars clearer. 

"Imagine yourself sitting on the surface of Mars and listening to the surroundings," Dave Gruel, lead engineer for the rover's camera and microphone subsystem, said during a news briefing. "It's cool. Really neat. Overwhelming, if you will."

Gruel said that he was particularly excited for the audio recordings so that people who are visually impaired can still feel the same excitement of reaching Mars as those who can view images and videos. 

Mission team members said Monday that they hope to hear many more sounds from Mars, including wind, storms, falling rocks and the sound of Perseverance's wheels as it moves or its drill as it digs into the Martian surface. 

Audio can also signal to scientists how well Perseverance is functioning, and potentially identify issues with the rover. But, due to Mars' harsh conditions, scientists warn that the microphones may not last the duration of the mission. 

Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, said the recordings are "the closest you can get to landing on Mars without putting on a pressure suit."

Scientists have attempted to hear Mars before. Microphones have traveled to the red planet twice — the Mars Polar Lander failed, and the microphone aboard the Phoenix Lander was never turned on. 

In 2018, NASA's Insight Mars lander unexpectedly picked up similar sounds of Martian wind vibrations using its air pressure sensor and seismometer. But, Perseverance has captured the real thing from Mars' surface, using "commercial off-the-shelf" microphones, specifically dedicated to picking up audio. 

Perseverance will soon get to work hunting for signs of ancient life in the Jezero Crater. And a decade from now, it plans to be the first to send samples from the red planet back to Earth. 

First published on February 23, 2021 / 7:30 AM

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