For the first time ever, NASA’s Perseverance rover has recorded the sound of a “dust devil” swirling on Mars.
The opportunity came by surprise when the 390 ft high and 82 ft wide whirlwind soured directly above the rover’s SuperCam microphone.
Despite the rarity of the catch, dust devils are common on the red planet. They form when there is a major difference between the ground and air temperatures. The reason NASA hasn’t been able to capture one until now is that they only last for a brief moment.
Dust devils are particularly common in the Jezero crater, which is where the Perseverance has been roaming for nearly two years, and the Mars team has been hoping to catch audio of the event. After the long wait, they feel like they “hit the jackpot.”
“We hear the wind associated with the dust devil, the moment it arrives, then nothing because we are in the eye of the vortex,” explained Naomi Murdoch, a planetary researcher at the ISAE-SUPAERO space institute in France.
The sound resumes “when the microphone passes through the second wall” of the whirlwind, she continued.
The New Recording Could Help Researchers Understand How Mars May Have Once Sustained Life
Researchers are excited about the recording because it could help them better understand the planet’s weather and climate. With more knowledge, they may learn how the thin atmosphere could have supported life.
While it may seem impossible to learn anything from an audio capture, there is a surprising amount of detail in the sound. The most important is the ticking noise the dust devil makes as it moves. With that, the team can count how many particles are in the phenomenon’s structure.
Murdoch noted that the dust devil sounds very similar to those here on Earth. The only noticeable difference is that the Mars event is quieter because of the thinner atmosphere.
The new information may also help researchers determine why dust devils behave differently on different regions of the planet. In some spots, they will pass by sucking up dust, cleaning the solar panels of rovers along the way,” Murdoch shared. But in other areas, the whirlwinds hardly kick any dust at all.
“They’re just moving air,” she added. “We don’t know why.”