Even before launch, NASA talked at length about the suite of more than 20 cameras on the Perseverance rover, but did you know it also has a pair of microphones? NASA has used these off-the-shelf components to record the sounds of Mars in high fidelity for the first time. Some of the team’s favorite eerie recordings are available for your listening pleasure, but they’re also of intense scientific interest as the recordings are the best audio ever captured on another planet.
According to NASA scientists Nina Lanza and Justin Maki, the two microphones on Perseverance are commercial off-the-shelf items that anyone can buy on the internet. Similar to the way NASA used commercial hardware on the Ingenuity helicopter, these mics provide NASA with useful insights, and it didn’t take a months-long design process to build them. There’s one mic on the rover’s mast near the SuperCam and Mastcam-Z, allowing it to move around. The other is stationary on the rover’s left side.
Since landing back in February, the team has been recording audio of various events on the red planet, totaling more than five hours so far. You can catch the highlights in the video below, or by heading over to the NASA website where you can get details on each clip.
This audio isn’t just good for getting clicks on YouTube — hearing the way sound propagates through the Martian atmosphere can tell scientists about the conditions there. While sound on Earth spans the audio spectrum we’ve all come to expect, sounds in the ultra-thin Martian atmosphere tend toward lower frequencies. The team also noted that sounds travel much further than expected. The rover was even able to record the sounds of Ingenuity taking off from a safe distance.
Adding sound to the data coming back from Mars also helps NASA assess how the machinery is working. We can hear the squeaky, grinding noise of the rover’s metal wheels traversing the soil, and the click of the ChemCam’s laser vaporizing rock. And it’s all happening on another planet. There have been a few “sounds” from Mars, like the vibrations picked up from InSight’s solar panels, but Perseverance is the first mission designed to record high-quality audio. Perseverance will record a lot more of it, too. The rover is only a few months into what should be many years exploring Mars. After all, it’s based on the Curiosity chassis, and that robot is coming up on ten years on the red planet.