Since landing on Mars on Feb. 18, NASA’s Perseverance rover has been undergoing extensive testing. It has also recorded Martian sounds.

After a 300-million-mile journey and a stressful plunge to the Martian surface, NASA’s Perseverance rover landed safely on Mars.

Initially, the rover has been searching for a suitable zone for Ingenuity Mars Helicopter to attempt its first flight tests. But two days ago, on Wednesday, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory announced it had selected a location.

Now, the rover has beamed back the first-ever sound recordings of a vehicle driving across Mars. Thus, adding a whole new dimension to Mars exploration.

A day ago, NASA publicly released two versions of the 90-foot (27.3-meter) drive on March 7.

The Mars Perseverance rover’s metal wheels banged as it made its way across the rough Martian terrain.

“A lot of people, when they see the images, don’t appreciate that the wheels are metal,” said Vandi Verma, a senior engineer and rover driver at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “When you’re driving with these wheels on rocks, it’s actually very noisy.”

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Perseverance’s entry, descent, and landing (EDL) microphone captured more than 16 minutes of sounds. The microphone remains operational on the rover after its historic touchdown on Feb. 18.

In the first version, you can hear the movement of the rover’s six wheels moving across the surface of the red planet.

The source of the noise isn’t yet known, but it may stem from electromagnetic interference with one of the rover’s electronics boxes or interactions between the rover and the ground. 

The microphone, which is just a standard “off-the-shelf” model, was specifically added to the rover to capture the landing and was not originally intended for surface operations. But the sounds of Perseverance driving across Mars’ surface are certainly more than welcome.

The second version is a shorter compilation of sounds from the longer raw recording of the drive. It lasts for just 90 seconds and filters out some of the noise from the unfiltered cut. 

“If I heard these sounds driving my car, I’d pull over and call for a tow,” said Mars 2020 EDL camera and microphone subsystem’s lead engineer Dave Gruel. “But if you take a minute to consider what you’re hearing and where it was recorded, it makes perfect sense.”

“The variations between Earth and Mars — we have a feeling for that visually,” said Verma. “But sound is a whole different dimension: to see the differences between Earth and Mars, and experience that environment more closely.”

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On March 10, NASA also released clips from its SuperCam microphone in which both Martian wind and the sound of the instrument’s laser zapping rocks could be heard.

Such information will help scientists as they search Jezero Crater for signs of ancient microscopic life, taking samples of rock and sediment to be returned to Earth by future missions.

Audio can also signal to scientists how well Perseverance is functioning, and potentially identify issues with the rover.

The SuperCam sounds were part of a series of systems checks the rover has gone through, ranging from the unstowing of Perseverance’s massive robotic arm to making its first weather observations using the Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer.

Mission team members said that they hope to hear many more sounds from Mars, including more wind, storms, falling rocks, and the sound of Perseverance’s drill as it digs into the surface.

What’s next for Perseverance rover?

Now that NASA has found the right spot, the Perseverance and Ingenuity teams are making plans for the rover to deploy the helicopter. Ingenuity will have 30 Martian days, or sols (31 Earth days), to complete up to five test fights.

After Perseverance drops the helicopter on the surface, it will roll back away and take images of these historic flights. Ingenuity also carries two cameras and will be able to share its aerial views.

And then, the hunt for ancient life begins. Between the rover’s 19 cameras and its two microphones, the experience will be packed with sights and sounds.

The rover will characterize the planet’s geology and past climate, pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet, and be the first mission to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith (broken rock and dust).

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