NASA Rover Captures Martian Dust Devil


NASA's Perseverance Mars rover | Image by NASA

A NASA rover has captured the sound of a dust devil on the Martian surface for the first time ever.

NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover recorded both audio and video of the rumbling red whirlwind on September 27, 2021, using its SuperCam.

The dust devil reportedly passed directly over the rover. The rover has captured 90 dust devils passing overhead, but this is the first time that its onboard microphone was switched on.

Perseverance’s weather sensors and the rover’s left navigation camera were active at the same time as the SuperCam’s microphone, according to NASA.

NASA posted a video from Perseverance showcasing raw footage from its onboard camera, the image processed with change-detection software, a graph indicating the change in pressure and sound.

These combined factors allowed scientists to combine sound, image, and atmospheric data with atmospheric modeling to estimate the dimensions of the weather phenomenon.

Scientists concluded that this dust devil was 82 feet wide, at least 387 feet tall, and traveling at about 12 mph.

The sound recordings quantified for the first time the wind-blown dust grains in a dust devil based on particle impacts. Scientists documented an unparalleled number of particles in the center of the vortex.

“This particular dust devil is unusual even for Mars,” said Naomi Murdoch, a planetary scientist at the Institut Supérieur de l’Aéronautique et de l’Espace at the University of Toulouse in France and lead author of the study. “We aren’t entirely sure why the dust has accumulated in the center, but it may be because the dust devil is still in its initial phase of formation,” she continued.

Perseverance landed inside the 28-mile-wide Jezero Crater on February 18, 2021. The rover’s mission was to search for signs of ancient Mars life and collect samples to be brought to Earth.

“Within our team at ISAE–SUPAERO we were convinced that a microphone on Mars would be an important instrument, and we haven’t been disappointed,” said Murdoch.

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