NASA’s InSight lander has captured the sound of a Martian ‘dust devil’ during its first days on the red planet.
According to the space agency, this is the first time we’ve ever heard Martian winds.
The low rumble detected by InSight’s sensors are estimated to be blowing between 10 to 15 mph (5 to 7 meters a second) from northwest to southeast – and, the recordings are within the range of human hearing.
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NASA says the sounds recorded on December 1 line up with dust devil streaks observed in the landing area.
The vibrations were recorded at a very low pitch, though those with sharp ears will be able to hear it as is using headphones or subwoofers.
To make it clearer, NASA boosted the pitch by two octaves, making it audible on laptops and mobile devices.
While InSight didn’t set out to record Martian winds, specifically, the team says this type of data collection comes with the territory.
The lander detected wind vibrations with two of its sensors: one designed to measure air pressor, and with a seismometer on the deck.
‘Capturing this audio was an unplanned treat,’ says Bruce Banerdt, InSight principal investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab.
‘But one of the things our mission is dedicated to is measuring motion on Mars, and naturally that includes motion caused by sound waves.’
The space agency shared a series of high-resolution photos captured this week. InSight will soon begin snapping images of the terrain directly in front of it, so the team can select the best location to drill down. The solar panel that will help power the machine is pictured
This image shows some of the instruments visible in the selfie image sent back to Earth by InSight early last Tuesday morning
According to the InSight team, the two different instruments recorded the noise in different ways.
While the Auxiliary Payload Sensor Subsystem’s air pressure sensor recorded the vibrations directly, the seismometer picked up vibrations caused by the wind passing over the lander’s solar panels.
The data collected by InSight’s Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) in the months before it’s moved onto the ground will eventually be used to cancel out background noises as it works to detect marsquakes.
Its short period (SP) silicon sensors can detect vibrations with frequencies of up to 50 hertz, which sits at the lower range of human hearing, NASA says.
InSight touched down in a region known as Elysium Planitia. Its location can be seen in the map above, not far from the landing site of the 2012 Curiosity mission, the last NASA probe to land on Mars
INSIGHT’S THREE KEY INSTRUMENTS
The lander that could reveal how Earth was formed: InSight lander set for Mars landing on november 26th
Three key instruments will allow the InSight lander to ‘take the pulse’ of the red planet:
Seismometer: The InSight lander carries a seismometer, SEIS, that listens to the pulse of Mars.
The seismometer records the waves traveling through the interior structure of a planet.
Studying seismic waves tells us what might be creating the waves.
On Mars, scientists suspect that the culprits may be marsquakes, or meteorites striking the surface.
Heat probe: InSight’s heat flow probe, HP3, burrows deeper than any other scoops, drills or probes on Mars before it.
It will investigate how much heat is still flowing out of Mars.
Radio antennas: Like Earth, Mars wobbles a little as it rotates around its axis.
To study this, two radio antennas, part of the RISE instrument, track the location of the lander very precisely.
This helps scientists test the planet’s reflexes and tells them how the deep interior structure affects the planet’s motion around the Sun.
‘The InSight lander acts like a giant ear,’ said Tom Pike, InSight science team member and sensor designed at Imperial College London.
‘The solar panels on the lander’s sides respond to pressure fluctuations of the wind.
‘It’s like InSight is cupping its ears and hearing the Mars wind beating on it. When we looked at the direction of the lander vibrations coming from the solar panels, it matches the expected wind direction at our landing site.’
The team has released both a raw, unaltered audio sample of the seismometer recording and a second version that’s been raised two octaves to make it easier to hear.
NASA’s InSight lander has finally removed the lens cover from its cameras, allowing the robotic explorer to take its clearest pictures yet of its new home
For the latter, the APSS sample was sped up by a factor of 100.
According to the experts, the source of the sound is pretty straightforward; vibrations detected by the instruments are much like the air pressure changes you hear when a flag whips around in the wind.
‘That’s literally what sound is — changes in air pressure,’ said Don Banfield InSight’s science lead for APSS from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.
‘You hear that whenever you speak to someone across the room.’