One of those missions includes NASA’s Persevering Rover. When it lands, we will be able to hear the sounds of Mars for the first time, thanks to the rover’s microphones.
NASA Interactive compares sounds when we hear them on Earth versus how they might sound on Mars, such as chirping or music. If you are speaking on Mars, your voice will sound more mute and it will take longer for others to hear you.
So what can we hear on Mars? The microphones are expected to pick up sounds of the rover landing and action on Mars, in addition to ambient noises such as wind. One of the microphones is located at the top of the rover mast, so it can capture natural sounds and even activity with the rover – like when a rover laser electrocutes rocks and turns them into plasma to learn more about their composition.
“It’s amazing all the science we can get with a simple tool like a microphone on Mars,” said Baptiste Chead, a postdoctoral researcher in planetary sciences at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and a contributor to the SuperCam microphone.
The other microphone will hear pyrotechnic devices deploying parachutes as they descend and rover wheels moving over the surface of Mars.
“It’s a unique experience recording audible sounds on the surface of Mars,” said Chaid. “With the microphones on board The Perseverance, we will add a fifth sense of Mars exploration. It will open up a new field of scientific investigation of both the atmosphere and the surface.”
The persistent rover, tasked with searching for signs of ancient life, and the innovation helicopter, which will be the first to fly on another planet, are scheduled to land on Mars on February 18.
This doesn’t mean the planet wasn’t teeming with activity from the robotic explorers NASA has sent to Mars in recent years.
3000 days and counting
The Curiosity spacecraft is still working hard and has been investigating Mars since its landing in 2012 – 3,000 days have passed on Mars since Curiosity landed on the red planet.
Curiosity gradually climbed Mount Sharp, a 3-mile-high mountain in the middle of Gale Crater that is 96 miles wide.
To celebrate 3,000 days on Mars, Curiosity snapped one of its famous panoramas. Geologists on the expedition team were excited to see the rocks that looked like benches as the Curiosity continued its ascent.
The panorama includes 122 single photos taken on November 18th.
The center of the panorama shows the floor of Gale Crater, with its northern edge in the horizon. Mount Sharp’s top tier can be seen to the right.
These bench-like stones form when layers of soft rock erode on cliffs, leaving behind hard cliff-like layers of rock.
“Our science team is excited to see how it formed and what it means for the ancient environment within Gale,” Ashwin Vasavada, Curiosity Project Scientist, said in a statement.
InSight goes ahead without a ‘mole’
The InSight mission, which landed on Mars in 2018, has been extended for another two years and is expected to operate until December 2022, according to a NASA announcement.
Since InSight began investigating Mars, members of the expedition team have learned more about the planet’s crust and mantle. They have identified a number of Martian earthquakes and demonstrated that Mars is seismically active.
Scientists have also learned more about the Martian atmosphere, the magnetic field, and the internal structure of the planet.
During the extended mission, InSight will track seismic activity on Mars and study Mars weather.
However, the one thing that won’t move is the “mole” or InSight’s heat probe. The purpose of the probe was to bury itself beneath the surface of Mars and measure the internal temperature of Mars to better understand the heat behind the planet’s evolution.
Mars’ soil tends to clump, which has proven to be an obstacle to the mole as it has attempted to bury itself since February 2019. Simply, there is not enough friction for the mole to knock itself more than 3 cm. Even clicking on it with the scooper, located on InSight’s robotic arm, didn’t help.
“We gave it all we have, but Mars and our hero body are still incompatible,” said Tillman Spoon, lead investigator on the instrument, in a statement. “Fortunately, we learned a lot that will benefit future missions trying to dig into the ground.”
This is the first time an underground penetration mission has attempted on Mars. However, the knowledge gained from this attempt will inform future designs – especially for astronauts who may one day have to dig into Martian soil or tools searching for subsurface life.
“We are very proud of our team that has worked hard to deepen InSight’s immortalization of the planet. It was amazing to see them discovering and fixing errors from millions of miles away,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s Associate Director of Science Mission. “This is why at NASA we take risks – we have to push the boundaries of technology to see what works and what doesn’t.”