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Make some noise Mars, we’re listening

Donna Coutts and AP, February 23, 2021 7:00PM Kids News

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A selfie by Perseverance showing its navigation cameras, taken on February 20 while on the surface of Mars. Picture: AFP/NASA/JPL-Caltech media_cameraA selfie by Perseverance showing its navigation cameras, taken on February 20 while on the surface of Mars. Picture: AFP/NASA/JPL-Caltech

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A microphone on NASA’s Perseverance rover has recorded for the first time the sound of another planet.

The microphone survived the descent onto Mars on Friday morning and though there was nothing usable captured then, it successfully recorded sound from Jezero Crater the next day.

NASA shared the 60-second recording this morning Australian time, February 23. A Martian breeze or wind is audible for a few seconds about 10 seconds into the recording. It’s also possible to hear the mechanical whirr of the rover.

NASA has also released a version in which the noise of the rover has been removed.

PERSEVERANCE IS LISTENING
NASA’s Mars rover has two types of microphones.

The sound of the Martian wind released today comes from what are called Entry Descent and Landing (EDL) microphones. They are much like standard microphones used on Earth and are on-board to record the sounds of the descent of the rover and then the landing. The engineers didn’t think it likely they would survive the landing but that if they did, we “may be able to hear the sounds of the Martian winds and sounds of the working rover, such as the wheels turning, or the motors that turn its head, and the heat pumps that keep it warm”, NASA predicted on its Perseverance mission website.

Happily, they survived the landing and sent back sounds of the Martian wind and the rover working, just as predicted.

media_cameraThe surface of Mars and one of the rover’s wheels after landing on February 18, 2021. Picture: AFP/NASA

The other microphone on Perseverance is part of SuperCam, on a boom* on the head of the rover’s long mast, which hasn’t yet been put to work. SuperCam will identify minerals and rock composition by firing a laser at a rock that vaporises* it into a hot gas. This creates a shockwave that makes a popping sound. The kind of pop tells scientists about the mass of the rock and what it is made of. The intensity of the sound reveals the hardness of the rock, which indicates how it was formed.

The SuperCam microphone should also be able to record the sounds of the Martian wind and the rover operating.

NASA spacecraft that travelled to Mars in the past have carried microphones twice. Unfortunately, one of those missions, the Mars Polar Lander, failed. The Phoenix Lander had a microphone on the spacecraft’s descent camera, but that instrument was never turned on.

Source: NASA

Mars NASA media_cameraA global snapshot of weather patterns across Mars. Here, bluish-white water ice clouds hang above the Tharsis volcanoes. Picture: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

ARE YOU LISTENING?
Sound is waves of energy. Unlike light, sound waves need something — such as water or air — to travel through. Sound travels by making the molecules it is travelling through vibrate and these vibrations reach a microphone or your ear drum.

In deep space, there isn’t regular sound like we hear on Earth, because in the spaces between planets and stars, there are no molecules to vibrate.

Because the atmospheric pressure on Mars is only about 1 per cent of that on Earth, many people incorrectly think sound wouldn’t exist or wouldn’t be audible on Mars, but, as we heard today, it is! The sounds from Mars will be quieter and won’t travel as far, compared to the same sound on Earth.

OTHER SOUNDS A HOAX
Days before NASA released the sounds recorded by Perseverance, a video went viral on the internet that people claimed included sounds from the surface of Mars.

“Stop everything for 26 seconds and watch this,” one Twitter user urged his followers on Friday. “Footage, with sound (!) from the surface of another planet. Just incredible.”

More than 6 million Twitter users viewed the video on Friday, and tens of thousands retweeted it.

It has since been revealed that the video was made by editing a panoramic photograph taken by the Curiosity rover. Curiosity does not have microphones on board.

The sound effects were edited into the video, NASA spokesman Andrew Good confirmed.

GLOSSARY

  • boom: arm
  • vaporises: convert into a vapour or gas

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China and UAE spacecrafts enter Mars orbit

QUICK QUIZ

  1. What is the name of NASA’s latest Mars rover?
  2. Apart from Martian wind, what else can you hear in the recording?
  3. What is the SuperCam microphone for?
  4. Why isn’t it possible to listen to Mars via Curiosity rover?
  5. Describe the atmosphere on Mars compared to Earth.

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. Create a Haiku Poem on the Sounds of Mars
A Haiku poem is a non-rhyming 3-lined poem. It is a good poem structure to use to set a mood or describe nature. In this instance you are describing the sounds of Mars. The first time we’ve heard anything from another planet! To complete a Haiku poem, follow this structure;

Line 1 – 5 syllables

Line 2 – 7 syllables

Line 3 – 5 syllables (usually makes an observation about the topic)

An example of a Haiku poem on the topic of winter is:

Winter is coming.

Snow will be arriving soon.

We should rake the leaves.

Have a go writing your own Haiku, it might take a few tries to get it in the right structure and making sense but that’s OK!

Time: allow 25 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English

2. Extension
Use some adjectives to describe the sounds you can hear in the recording.

What are some other sounds you are hoping to hear from Perseverance’s microphones?

Why as a nation are we so excited to hear sounds from another planet?

Time: allow 10 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Critical and creative thinking

VCOP ACTIVITY
I Spy Nouns
Nouns are places, names (of people and objects), and time (months or days of the week).

How many nouns can you find in the article?

Can you sort them into places, names and time?

Pick 3 nouns and add an adjective (describing word) to the nouns.

HAVE YOUR SAY: What is your favourite Earth sound? Have you heard it yet?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.

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