Mars rover records first sound of dust devil on red planet

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (AP) — What does a dust devil sound like on Mars? Coincidentally, a NASA rover had his microphone on when a swirling tower of red dust passed directly overhead and picked up the racket.

It’s about 10 seconds of not just rumbling gusts of wind up to 25 mph (40 km/h), but the pinging of hundreds of dust particles against the Perseverance rover. Scientists released the first audio of its kind on Tuesday.

It sounds remarkably similar to dust devils on Earth, though quieter because Mars’ thin atmosphere makes for more muffled sounds and less powerful winds, the researchers said.

The dust devil came and went quickly over Perseverance last year, hence the audio’s short length, said Naomi Murdoch of the University of Toulouse, lead author of the study appearing in Nature Communications. At the same time, the navigation camera on the parked rover captured images, while the weather monitoring instrument collected data.

“It was completely caught red-handed by Persy,” said study co-author German Martinez of the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston.

Photographed on Mars for decades but never heard of until now, dust devils are common on the red planet. This one was in the medium range: at least 400 feet (118 meters) long and 80 feet (25 meters) wide, traveling at 16 feet (5 meters) per second.

The microphone picked up 308 dust pings as the dust devil passed by, said Murdoch, who helped build it.

Given that the rover’s SuperCam microphone is on for less than three minutes every few days, Murdoch said it was “absolutely lucky” that the dust devil appeared when it did on Sept. 27, 2021. She estimates there was only one 1-in-200 chance to capture dust-devil audio.

Of the 84 minutes collected in the first year, there is “only one shot of the dust devil,” she wrote in an email from France.

The same microphone on Perseverance’s mast provided the first Martian sounds — namely the Martian wind — shortly after the rover landed in February 2021. It was followed by audio of the rover driving around and its companion helicopter, the tiny Ingenuity, also flying nearby as the crackle of the rover’s rock-zapping lasers, the main reason for the microphone.

These recordings allow scientists to study the Martian wind, atmospheric turbulence and now dust motion like never before, Murdoch said. The results “”show how valuable acoustic data can be in space exploration.”

Hunting for rocks that may contain signs of ancient microbial life, Perseverance has so far collected 18 samples in Jezero Crater, once the scene of a river delta. NASA plans to return these samples to Earth in ten years. The Ingenuity helicopter has logged 36 flights, the longest of which lasted nearly three minutes.


The Associated Press Health and Science division is supported by the Science and Educational Media Group of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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