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Life On Mars? Who Knows — But This Is What The Planet Sounds Like

The red surface of Mars, with the horizon in the background,  and a soundwave in white in the foreground
(Courtesy of NASA)
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Humans have long imagined life on the Red Planet, and now, we have an idea at least of what life might sound like.

Using a SuperCam microphone on the Perseverance Rover — which was developed at JPL in Pasadena — NASA has been able to eavesdrop on the red planet.

But what the team has picked up isn't just for earthly fun. The measurements they've gathered provide new information about the Martian speed of sound … or rather, the speeds of sound.

On Mars, the atmosphere is different than it is on Earth — it's 150 times thinner and made up of 96% carbon dioxide — so sound waves also travel differently.

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A quick breakdown: the experience of hearing sound is actually just the sensation of sound waves vibrating our eardrums. But to get to our ears, sound waves need something to travel through, like air..

Take a listen — closely. You can pick up several different sounds a light martian wind, the crackle of a rock-zapping laser, the whir of a space helicopter, and the “pings and puffs” of the Perserverance gaseous dust removal tool, according to NASA's website.

Higher-pitched sounds are absorbed by the Mars atmosphere, slowing them down, while lower-pitched sounds travel long distances.

That means there are actually two speeds of sound on Mars: one for higher pitches, and one for lower pitches, according to planetary scientist Naomi Murdoch, who works on the SuperCam microphone.

"If you're listening to a concert," says Murdoch, "all of the low pitched music, all of those instruments, would arrive after the music coming from the higher-pitched instruments. So it would sound very strange and out of sync."

The Mars helicopter Ingenuity takes off on a test flight.
The Mars helicopter Ingenuity takes off on a test flight.
(Courtesy of NASA)

Murdoch notes that the sound study is particularly exciting because it's opened up an entirely new field of research. She says up until now, we haven't had microphones on other planets that have been able to capture atmospheric changes in so much detail.

And Murdoch's team isn't going to stop at Mars — they hope to send microphones to other planetary bodies like Venus and Saturn's moon, Titan.

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