Ever wondered what it sounds like to drive on Mars? The answer involves clonks, squeaks, and a distressing amount of scratching.
The latter, according to scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), is hopefully the result of something like electromagnetic interference from electronics within the Perseverance Rover rather than anything more sinister.
Dave Gruel, lead engineer for Mars 2020's Entry, Descent, and Landing (EDL) Camera and Microphone subsystem, said: "If I heard these sounds driving my car, I'd pull over and call for a tow," before pointing out that it all makes sense when one considers where the audio is coming from.
Certainly, driving over the rugged surface of Mars would be a relatively noisy endeavour. We've simply never had the opportunity to hear it until now.
The EDL microphone, an off-the-shelf unit, was not intended for surface operations but since it survived the 18 February landing, engineers used it to capture the sounds made during the rover's 27.3-metre drive on 7 March. A second microphone captured the sound of the Martian wind and the ticking of the robot's laser firing at rocks.
The recording is compensation for the lack of sound during Perseverance's landing. To be fair, the video imagery of the descent coupled with the sound of the understandably excited scientists and engineers in the mission control room was more than good enough for us.
The six wheels beneath Perseverance have been re-engineered following the experience of sister rover Curiosity, which is still trundling across the surface of Mars. "The wheels are made of aluminium," explained JPL, "with cleats for traction and curved titanium spokes for springy support."
And goodness, they do seem to make the odd clank and bonk sound as the rover rolls its way across Mars. We'd have to agree with JPL: "This adds a whole new dimension to planetary exploration."
Currently attached to the belly of Perseverance, the technology demonstrator has a limited test flight window of up to 31 days. The first test flights are expected to occur no earlier than the first week of April. ®