First, listen as the Mars rover collides with a 387-foot dust devil

Suspension

Scientists have seen many dust devils on Mars, and now, for the first time, they’ve heard of one. The vortex delivered a direct hit to NASA’s persistent rover, dousing the spacecraft in dust and whispering into a microphone the team had cleverly included in their instrument package.

The data set coming from the encounter has impressed the scientists, who are keenly aware of the massive impact of Martian dust on the planet’s climate. The fine particulate matter could also damage scientific instruments on landers and Martian spacecraft and potentially render universal solar panels useless. Studying the rover’s bold recordings could provide insight into the way dust might affect ongoing Mars missions, and perhaps even future human exploration.

The dust devil’s voice, published Tuesday to accompany a paper in the journal Nature Communications, was subtle. It is crackling and squeaky, like a stationary radio, though one might generously imagine a breeze rustling some distant palm fronds.

Then comes a few seconds of silence as the dust devil’s eye passes over the rover. The sound returns for another two seconds as the dust devil’s back wall above the rover spins again. Then it was over, and Mars was quiet again.

NASA’s Perseverance rover has recorded the sound of a dust devil on the surface of Mars. Video: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/CNES/CNRS/INTA-CSIC/Space Science Institute/ISAE-SUPAERO (Video: NASA)

This wasn’t exactly a “severe weather” event. Mars has a paltry atmosphere, about 1% the density of Earth’s, so storms are there don’t howl. The rover was not damaged.

Still, there’s a lot of cues in this short dose of noise, and in the visual images the SuperCam instrument captured atop the rover. Researchers estimate that the dust devil was about 25 meters (82 ft) wide and 118 meters (387 ft) high. This is taller than the Statue of Liberty, including the pedestal.

“As the dust devil passes over Perseverance, we can actually hear the individual effects of the grains on the probe,” said Naomi Murdoch, a planetary scientist at ISAE-SUPAERO, an aeronautical engineering institute in Toulouse, France, and author of the new report. “We can actually count them.”

The Dust Devil is somewhat like a miniature storm hive. They usually emerge in the middle of the day as hot air rises from the surface. A scientist who wishes to speak more technically could call this a dust-laden convective vortex. Dust is not the cause of the whirlpool, but only along the way.

Murdoch said the team’s success in capturing the Dust Devil’s voice reflected both luck and preparation. The rover microphone takes recordings a little under three minutes long, and only does it eight times a month. But the recordings are timed at the time when dust devils are most likely to occur, and the rover’s cameras are pointed in the direction they are most likely to be seen.

“Then we just have to get our fingers busy,” she said.

That’s clearly the trick, because Perseverance was able to capture the dust devil with multiple instruments, recording air pressure drops, temperature changes, and the sound of grain making impact, all topped with images that show the size and shape of the vortex. .

“I can’t think of a previous case where so much data from so many instruments contributed to the characterization of a single dust devil,” John Edward Morris, a planetary scientist at the University of York, said in an email after reviewing the new paper. He said the team was lucky because all the observations overlapped.

“He has the [camera] If she points in a different direction or the mic monitor is scheduled a few seconds later, key parts of the story will be missed. Sometimes it pays to be lucky in science! “

The Mars rover is looking for interesting clues in the search for extraterrestrial life

As the Perseverance team cheers for their stormy encounter, the calm weather has turned out to be a thing Problem for a different robotic NASA rover on Mars. The InSight lander, which descended more than 2,000 miles away in November 2018, contains instruments for exploring earthquakes and the planet’s interior.

InSight has lasted two years beyond its primary mission schedule but is now in the final weeks of its science life because its solar panels are 90% covered in dust. What he needs is a direct hit from a dust devil, because such vortices are capable of cleaning solar panels.

“The dust devil is like a little vacuum cleaner running on the surface,” said Bruce Banerdt, a planetary geophysicist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and principal investigator for InSight.

But InSight didn’t get a visit from the demon who is able to clean out its arrays. There is currently enough power to run the seismometer for eight hours, Banerdt said, but after that it should rest for three days while the batteries are recharged.

He said, “We’re still limping at this point.”

Murdoch said that this scattering pattern of dust devils appearing on Mars is still a mystery. Planetary scientists also can’t predict when the Red Planet will experience a global dust storm, she said, citing “our poor understanding of exactly how and when dust is lifted off the surface of Mars.”

But that’s changing, she hopes, as the microphone her team developed continues to hear the sounds of that distant desert planet.

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