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NASA reveals "very noisy" first sounds of Perseverance rover driving on Mars

NASA rover captures Mars sounds
NASA rover captures Mars sounds 00:44

In another first, NASA's Perseverance rover has beamed back some fascinating "bangs, pings and rattles" as it makes its way across the rough Martian terrain for the first time. 

NASA on Wednesday released the new audio, which marks the first sounds of the rover making its way across the Jezero Crater as it begins its hunt for ancient life. The audio, among the first ever recorded on another planet, contains the movement of the rover's six wheels moving across the surface of the red planet. 

More than 16 minutes of audio highlighting Perseverance's 90-foot drive on March 7 was captured by the rover's entry, descent and landing (EDL) microphone, which remained operational following the nail-biting touchdown a few weeks prior. 

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NASA's Mars Perseverance rover acquired this image using its onboard left Navigation Camera. The camera is located high on the rover's mast and aids in driving. This image was acquired on Mar. 7, 2021 (Sol 16). NASA/JPL-Caltech

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 gliding across Mars' surface are certainly an added bonus.

"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. "When you're driving with these wheels on rocks, it's actually very noisy."

NASA has released two versions of the same drive. The first includes over 16 minutes of raw, unedited sounds of Perseverance's wheels and suspension moving across the surface, as well as an unexpected, high-pitched scratching noise. 

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 second audio is just 90 seconds, a condensed version of the drive with clips that have been processed and edited to filter out some of the noise. 

"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. "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," Verma added. "But sound is a whole different dimension: to see the differences between Earth and Mars, and experience that environment more closely."

On Thursday, astronauts Dr. Kate Rubins and Commander Victor Glover, both aboard the International Space Station, told CBSN Boston that watching the rover land from the ISS was akin to a Super Bowl party.  

"We were all gathered around the television set, we were watching people at JPL. Our hearts were in our throats, l think like everybody else watching it live," Rubins said. "It was absolutely incredible. If you guys haven't seen the video of the landing, it's amaz— You theoretically know that we're landing something on Mars, but it's different to see it. It was breathtaking."  

Astronauts discuss moon and Mars missions 16:41

Less than a week after landing, Perseverance beamed back the first-ever audio recordings from the surface of the red planet, which captured the sounds of the Martian wind blowing past, as well as the whirring noise of the rover itself. 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.

Between the rover's 19 cameras and its two microphones, scientists should have plenty to work with. 

Audio can also signal to scientists how well Perseverance is functioning, and potentially identify issues with the rover. But, due to Mars' harsh conditions, scientists warn that the microphones may not last the duration of the mission.

Sometime in April, Perseverance will place an experimental helicopter named Ingenuity on the Martian surface. The helicopter will then attempt the first power, controlled flight on another planet. After that, Percy can start digging. 

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