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A powerful dust storm swept over the Perseverance rover as it explored the site of an ancient lake on Mars — and the rover recorded the first sounds of this Martian dust devil. uses his microphone.
Dust devils, or dust storms, are common on Mars and are part of the red planet’s weather patterns.
Other missions have collected images, weather data and dust measurements of these events, and NASA’s InSight lander has even recorded the seismic and magnetic signals produced by the dust devils. But sound was the missing element — until now.
When the Perseverance rover landed on Mars in February 2021, it became the first mission to carry a microphone on its journey to the red planet.
The rover’s SuperCam microphone was activated and recorded on September 27, 2021, when the dust devil passed directly over the rover, according to a new study published in the journal Tuesday. Nature Connections.
During the 11-second clip captured by the microphone, there are two periods of low-frequency wind as the dust devil’s leading and trailing walls pass over the rover, said lead study author Dr. Naomi Murdoch, researcher at the Higher Institute of Aeronautics and Space, University of Toulouse.
Murdoch said there was a quiet period between the walls of the hurricane when the rover was in the eye of the vortex.
Crackling and hissing noises could be heard during the incident, which were determined to be dust particles hitting the rover.
Murdoch said the researchers were able to count the particles in the dust devil as they hit the rover, leading to an entirely new type of measurement on the red planet. This is the first time that an instrument has been able to detect high dust content on Mars.
Images and other data sent back by the rover also confirm what happened. When the researchers put together all the elements collected by the rover, they found that the dust devil is more than 387 feet (118 meters) tall and 82 feet (25 meters) across—about 10 times the size of the rover itself. Murdoch said that while it sounds like a big hurricane, it’s an average size for Martian dust devils.
The researchers were surprised to find that the dust devil was accumulating within the outer walls, rather than just being transported within it – which may be possible, as the dust devil may still be in the process of forming as it moves across the Endurance.
Dust devils serve as an indicator of atmospheric turbulence on Mars and play an important role in the Martian dust cycle.
Learning more about how dust rises and moves on the red planet — a key feature of its weather and climate because dust is its main feature — could help scientists better understand the formation and evolution of dust storms.
This is the dust storm surrounding the planets The Opportunity rover has completed its 15-year mission in 2018.
“Global dust storms are important for understanding Martian climate,” Murdoch said. “Acoustic measurements of dust impact and dust lifting will therefore improve our understanding of dust devils and also help improve Martian climate models. Understanding dust lifting is also critical for space missions because of the damage it causes to instruments.”
Perseverance’s wind sensors have already been damaged by high dust particles carried by the wind or dust devil, Murdoch said.
Dust devils are notorious for being both beneficial and harmful on Mars.
The The InSight lander’s mission is expected to end this month after spending four years studying earthquakes and other phenomena on the red planet. Layers of dust have collected on its solar panels, preventing the spacecraft from gathering enough power to keep its instruments running.
Dust devils often occur in Jezero Crater, where Endurance fell, but are absent from InSight’s home on the plains of Elysium Planitia — and researchers don’t know why.
“In the case of InSight, dust fell from the atmosphere onto the solar panels. “However, since there are no hurricanes in the InSight region that can raise dust, the eddies are not able to ‘clean’ the solar panels.”
Other Mars missions have actually benefited from regular cleaning of the dust devils, which act as vacuum cleaners for dust collected on the solar-powered Spirit and Opportunity rovers, giving them longer-than-expected lifespans.
It is known as the Higher Institute of Aeronautics and Space of the University of Toulouse ISAE-SUPAERO, set up the mic sitting on Perseverance. Murdoch and his team collect monthly eight notes, each lasting about 167 seconds.
“We estimate that there is only a 1 in 200 chance of recording a dust devil like we have with a microphone observation during midday (the time of day when dust devil activity is most active),” Murdoch said. “We certainly got lucky, but we also carefully targeted the instrument observations to increase the chance of success.”
More microphone recordings may capture additional dust devils, and Murdoch’s team is using acoustic recordings to measure atmospheric turbulence on Mars to determine its range.
Murdoch said the SuperCam microphone was originally inserted to listen as a tool for the rover to determine the characteristics of zap rocks, but its acoustic data also sheds light on atmospheric science opportunities on the red planet.
“All these measurements and analyzes highlight how valuable acoustic data is in planetary exploration. Therefore, in parallel, at ISAE-SUPAERO, we are developing next-generation acoustic sensors that will be sent to other planetary bodies with atmospheres in the future,” he said.
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