NASA released this week the first audio recordings captured by its six-wheeled nuclear-powered rover Perseverance in action, zapping rock samples as the Martian wind eerily whispers in the background..
The trundlebot left terra firma in July, and landed on the Red Planet last month. Since then, engineers have uploaded thousands of commands to test the rover’s instruments in its new environment before it fully embarks on its mission to find signs of alien microbial life. This has included snapping pictures using its SuperCam and recording audio using its microphone.
“It is amazing to see SuperCam working so well on Mars,” said Roger Wiens, the principal investigator for Perseverance’s SuperCam instrument at America's Los Alamos National Laboratory. “When we first dreamed up this instrument eight years ago, we worried that we were being way too ambitious. Now it is up there working like a charm.”
The rover has seven main instruments, one of which is the SuperCam. Armed with four different types of spectrometers and a pair of lasers, SuperCam is what makes Perseverance a geology lab on wheels. And microphones on the 1,025-kilogram vehicle have recorded these lasers in operation, along with the local background noise.
NASA released three audio clips of Perseverance doing its thing. One captures the SUV-sized machine's lasers vaporizing rocks; it sounds like a series of clicks. The second and third samples are of the harsh Martian wind blowing over the rover.
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All the clips were recorded just 18 hours after Perseverance touched down on the surface of its new home.
Scientists also received data from some of its spectrometers. The visible and infrared ones, collectively known as VISIR, inspect light from the Sun reflected off rock samples to study the layers of sediment and minerals present. Another type of spectrometer uses Raman spectroscopy, which involves shooting a laser pulse that excites the molecules in the rock to analyze its chemical structure.
“This is the first time an instrument has used Raman spectroscopy anywhere other than on Earth,” said Olivier Beyssac, research director at the Institut de Minéralogie, de Physique des Matériaux et de Cosmochimie, a lab in France.
“Raman spectroscopy is going to play a crucial role in characterizing minerals to gain deeper insight into the geological conditions under which they formed and to detect potential organic and mineral molecules that might have been formed by living organisms.”
The team will continue testing Perseverance, and is due to find the perfect site in the Jezero crater, where the machine is right now, to launch its Linux-powered helicopter Ingenuity, currently strapped to its belly.
“The sounds acquired are of remarkable quality, said Naomi Murdoch, a research scientist and lecturer at the ISAE-SUPAERO aerospace engineering school in France. “It’s incredible to think that we’re going to do science with the first sounds ever recorded on the surface of Mars.”
The SuperCam instrument was built at Los Alamos National Laboratory in collaboration with the French National Centre for Scientific Research and several French universities, as well as the University of Valladolid in Spain. ®