Perseverance captures first-ever audio of Martian dust devil

NASA’s Perseverance rover has captured audio from a Martian dust devil. The audio, which you can hear in the video at the top of this page, could help scientists better understand how dust might affect future Mars missions. NASA said “nearly every Mars rover has experienced [dust devils] in some way,” but this is the first time any such recording has been made.

On September 27, 2021, Perseverance’s navigation camera spotted a dust devil whirling toward it from 50-60 meters away. As the whirlwind swept across the rover, Perseverance’s microphone recorded the sound it made.

This video and audio show the results of NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover using its SuperCam microphone to record the sounds of a Martian dust devil. At the same time, Perseverance’s weather sensors (measuring wind, pressure, temperature, and dust) and the rover’s left navigation camera were on. This allowed scientists to combine sound, image, and atmospheric data. The unique combination of this data, along with atmospheric modeling, allowed the researchers to estimate the dust devil’s dimensions: 82 feet (25 meters) wide, at least 387 feet (118 meters) tall, and moving at about 12 MPH (19 KPH).

NASA said capturing a passing dust devil takes some luck, adding that this first-of-its-kind recording was around a 1-in-200 shot. Scientists can’t predict when they’ll pass by, so rovers like Perseverance routinely monitor in all directions for them. When scientists see them occur more frequently at a certain time of day, or approach from a certain direction, they use that information to focus their monitoring to try to catch a dust devil.

NASA’s Perseverance rover exploring Mars’ dusty Jezero crater on November 5. In September 2021, the rover made the first-ever audio recording of a Martian dust devil. | Credit: JPL-CalTech/NASA

The video included above has four rows based on different data sources:

The top row is a raw image taken by the left navigation camera’s view of the Martian surface. While the camera is capable of color, it takes black-and-white images when searching for dust devils to reduce the amount of data sent back to Earth (since most of the images come back without a dust devil detected).

The second row shows the same image processed with change-detection software to indicate where movement occurred over the course of the recording. The color indicates the density of dust, going from blue (lower density) through purple to yellow (highest density).

The third row is a graph showing a sudden drop in air pressure recorded by Perseverance’s weather sensor suite, called Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer, provided by Centro de Astrobiología (CAB) at the Instituto Nacional de Tecnica Aeroespacial in Madrid.

The fourth row indicates sound amplitude from SuperCam’s microphone.

A key objective for Perseverance’s mission on Mars is astrobiology, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life. Perseverance recently collected its first two samples of regolith, broken-up rock and dust, on Mars. Perseverance collected the samples using a drill on the end of its robotic arm.

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