NASA’s Perseverance rover has begun zapping Martian rocks with lasers — and recording the sound.
NASA recently released a 10-second audio clip of Perseverance’s lasers firing away on the red planet. As they strike Mars’ surface, a rhythmic clicking sound can be heard, like an otherworldly metronome.
—NASA’s Perseverance Mars Rover (@NASAPersevere) March 10, 2021
A microphone attached to the rover’s SuperCam laser instrument collected audio from 30 laser impacts on March 12, some slightly louder than others. The staccato pops on the recording are the sound of the laser vaporizing rocks.
The lasers were striking a rock named “Máaz” (which means Mars in the Navajo language), located 10 feet from the rover. By having the rover zap the Martian surface in this way, scientists can learn more about how hard rocks like Máaz are, and what they’re made of.
“If we tap on a surface that is hard, we will not hear the same sound as when we fire on a surface that is soft,” astronomer Naomi Murdoch, a member of the SuperCam team, told the BBC.
Máaz turned out to be a basaltic rock, made of magnesium and iron.
Sounds from another planet
These aren’t the first sounds Perseverance has beamed back to Earth.
A few days after the rover landed on Mars in February, it captured sounds of a Martian breeze. The clip was the first audio recording scientists had ever collected from the surface of another planet.
—NASA’s Perseverance Mars Rover (@NASAPersevere) February 22, 2021
Engineers equipped Perseverance with two microphones. The Entry Descent and Landing (EDL) Cam microphone was primarily meant to record sounds from the landing, though it failed to do so, and also to collect audio from Perseverance’s journey through space. The rover launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in July and traveled nearly 300 million miles to reach Mars.
The other mic, attached to the rover’s SuperCam, was designed to listen to sounds from the rover after it landed on the Martian surface.
According to Dave Gruel, NASA’s lead engineer for Perseverance’s camera and microphone systems, both microphones will continue collecting audio during the rest of the rover’s mission. The robot is poised to spend the next two years scouring Mars’ Jezero Crater for signs of ancient alien life and collecting rock samples.
“We know the public is fascinated with Mars exploration, so we added the EDL Cam microphone to the vehicle because we hoped it could enhance the experience, especially for visually impaired space fans, and engage and inspire people around the world,” he said in a NASA press release.
Perseverance is NASA’s fifth and most sophisticated Mars rover. The agency previously equipped two Martian spacecraft with microphones: the Mars Polar Lander and the Phoenix lander. But the mic on the former failed, and the latter never turned on its microphone.
NASA’s InSight lander, which touched down on Mars in 2018, also enabled scientists to listen to the Martian wind, but in a different way. The lander is equipped with a seismometer to study Mars quakes, so the tool can also sense vibrations that wind causes as it gusts across InSight’s solar panels.
The low-pitch sounds of these vibrations are audible to the human ear.
Morgan McFall-Johnsen contributed reporting to this story.