JPL Lander Hears the Winds of Mars: An "Unplanned Treat"

NASA's InSight lander, which touched down on Mars just 11 days ago, has provided the first ever "sounds" of Martian winds on the Red Planet.

Published : Saturday, December 8, 2018 | 5:49 AM

One of InSight's 7-foot (2.2 meter) wide solar panels was imaged by the lander's Instrument Deployment Camera, which is fixed to the elbow of its robotic arm. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Pasadena scientists heard eerie, other-worldly sounds from Mars this month.

A statement from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory said sensors on InSight (which stands for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) captured a “haunting low rumble” caused by vibrations from the wind, estimated to be blowing between 10 to 15 miles per hour on December 1, from northwest to southeast.

“Capturing this audio was an unplanned treat,” Bruce Banerdt, InSight principal investigator at JPL, said. “But one of the things our mission is dedicated to is measuring motion on Mars, and naturally that includes motion caused by sound waves.”

The winds were consistent with the direction of dust devil streaks in the landing area, which were observed from orbit, the statement said.

Two very sensitive sensors on the spacecraft – an air pressure sensor inside the lander and a seismometer sitting on the lander’s deck – detected the wind vibrations and recorded them in different ways. The air pressure sensor recorded the air vibrations directly, and the seismometer recorded vibrations caused by the wind moving over the spacecraft’s solar panels, which stick out from the sides of the lander like a giant pair of ears.

Later on, the seismometer, called the SEIS or Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure, will be placed on the Martian surface by InSight’s robotic arm, then covered by a domed shield to protect it from wind and temperature changes. It still will detect the lander’s movement, though channeled through the Martian surface. For now, it’s recording vibration data that scientists later will use to cancel out noise from the lander when SEIS is on the surface, allowing them to detect better actual marsquakes.

The marsquakes vibrations will tell the science mission about the Red Planet’s deep interior. Scientists hope this will lead to new information on the formation of the planets in the solar system, perhaps even of Earth.

The raw audio sample from the seismometer was released unaltered; a second version was raised two octaves to be more perceptible to the human ear – especially when heard through laptop or mobile speakers. The second audio sample from APSS was sped up by a factor of 100, which shifted it up in frequency.

To hear the audio sample, visit https://youtu.be/yT50Q_Zbf3s.

In just a couple of years, NASA’s Mars 2020 rover is scheduled to land with two microphones on board and bring even clearer sounds from Mars. The first microphone, provided by JPL, is included specifically to record, for the first time, the sound of a Mars landing. The second is part of the SuperCam, made up of a video camera, laser and, and spectrometers, that will examine rocks and soils on Mars and seek organic compounds that could be related to past life on the planet.

JPL manages InSight for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. InSight is part of NASA’s Discovery Program, which is managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

For more information about InSight, visit www.nasa.gov/insight.

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