NASA’s Perseverance rover recorded the sound of a dust devil on Mars
The Perseverance rover is the first spacecraft to carry a microphone into another world, and it recorded the sound of a 100-meter-high dust devil passing just above the rover
December 13, 2022
We heard a dust devil on Mars for the first time. The Perseverance rover has the first microphone ever sent to another planet, and it recorded a vortex passing just above the rover, which can help us predict dust storms in the future.
Dust devils are whirlpools that lift Martian soil into the air for a few minutes at a time before dissipating. There are millions of them gliding across the surface every day, and they’ve been detected by multiple landers – perseverance itself crossed paths with hundreds.
These were detected due to the localized drop in atmospheric pressure which every dust devil causes, but their sound was not recorded because the microphone is only turned on for a few seconds about twice a week. In one such recording, on September 27, 2021, he caught his first dust devil throwing specks of dust at the rover.
“If you were standing there, you could see the dust coming towards you, but you probably wouldn’t feel much or hear anything because of the weak atmosphere,” says Naomi Murdoch at the University of Toulouse in France. “Sound doesn’t travel very well on Mars, which is why we know those grains were hitting very close to the microphone.”
Combining the audio recording with data from Perseverance’s other sensors, Murdoch and his team calculated that the dust devil was about 25 meters in diameter, with a height of at least 118 meters.
They measured an average of 60 dust grain impacts per second, which is similar to what other teams have measured in dust devils on Earth. Strangely, however, these impacts occurred in three short bursts. One would expect the dust to be found mainly in the walls of the whirlwind, which would result in two bursts of impacts as the dust devil passes. Images of the dust devil revealed an unexpected cloud of dust in the center of the vortex, but researchers still don’t know what caused it.
“To date, one of the biggest problems scientists have with modeling the Martian climate is trying to predict things like when global dust storms are going to occur,” Murdoch says. “One of the reasons we can’t model this properly is that we don’t fully understand when, why, and how dust gets lifted into the atmosphere.” Dust devils shoot dust into the atmosphere on a smaller scale, so studying them could help us understand and even predict biggest storms on mars.
Journal reference: Nature Communication, DOI: 10.1038/s41467-022-35100-z
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