Three weeks ago, Earthlings sat agog by their computers as they heard the first sounds recorded by NASA’s Perseverance rover on the Martian surface. Turns out these tracks will be a regularity, as NASA just released another ballad from our new favorite robot.
Last week, we heard Perseverance zapping rocks with a laser. Ok, so not all the audio recordings are going to be that cool. The latest drop is a bit more... screechy.
If that’s a bit long for you, NASA was also kind enough to release a 90-second highlight reel from the drive, which you can play here:
Perseverance has an immensely busy schedule during its two-year tour of the Red Planet. As it skitters around Jezero Crater searching for signs of ancient life, the robot is bound to make some noise. But for most of humankind’s history on the Red Planet, science’s forward slog has been a silent experience; we’ve beheld photos of the muted sepia skies and the lonely red dunes, but never have we heard the soil crunching under a rover’s wheels and or the metallic clanking of its movements.
No longer. Perseverance’s microphones are adding a whole new dimension to our experience of Mars. The microphone that made the recent recording was originally supposed to record the rover’s entry, descent, and landing, but it ended up only becoming operational after landing.
“A lot of people, when they see the images, don’t appreciate that the wheels are metal,” Vandi Verma, a senior engineer and rover driver at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, said in an agency press release. “When you’re driving with these wheels on rocks, it’s actually very noisy.”
Last week, Perseverance took a 90-foot drive across the planet, one of its first tentative forays as NASA continues to check the rover’s systems following its dramatic arrival on Mars a month ago.
“If I heard these sounds driving my car, I’d pull over and call for a tow,” said Dave Gruel, lead engineer for Mars 2020’s EDL Camera and Microphone subsystem, in the NASA release. “But if you take a minute to consider what you’re hearing and where it was recorded, it makes perfect sense.”
The Martian soundtrack is replete with what you’d expect from an alien world. A bizarre, high-pitched frequency permeates the audio; NASA’s still trying to draw a bead on what’s causing it, though they suspect it may be electromagnetic interference or something to do with how the rover’s mobility system interacts with Mars’ surface.
To this writer, it sounds something like an empty oil drum rolling down a gentle hill. Feel free to comment with your own impressions, though. Nails on a red chalkboard?