LOS ANGELES: Nasa’s InSight lander, which touched down on Mars last week, has provided the first ever “sounds” of Martian winds on the Red Planet, said Nasa on other day.
InSight sensors captured a haunting low rumble caused by vibrations from the wind, estimated to be blowing between 10 to 15 mph (5 to 7 meters a second) on Dec. 1, from northwest to southeast. The winds were consistent with the direction of dust devil streaks in the landing area, which were observed from orbit.
“Capturing this audio was an unplanned treat,” said Bruce Banerdt, InSight principal investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. “But one of the things our mission is dedicated to is measuring motion on Mars, and naturally that includes motion caused by sound waves.”
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Two very sensitive sensors on the spacecraft detected these wind vibrations: an air pressure sensor inside the lander and a seismometer sitting on the lander’s deck, awaiting deployment by InSight’s robotic arm. The two instruments recorded the wind noise in different ways. The air pressure sensor, part of the Auxiliary Payload Sensor Subsystem (APSS), which will collect meteorological data, recorded these air vibrations directly. The seismometer recorded lander vibrations caused by the wind moving over the spacecraft’s solar panels, which are each 7 feet (2.2 meters) in diameter and stick out from the sides of the lander like a giant pair of ears.
“This is the very first fifteen minutes of data that have come from the short period seismometer,” said Thomas Pike, lead investigator at Imperial College London, during a conference call with reporters.
“It’s a little like a flag waving in the wind,” he added.
“It really sounds otherworldly, and that is exactly what it is.”
InSight is designed to study the interior of Mars like never before, using seismology instruments to detect quakes and a self-hammering mole to measure heat escape from the planet’s crust.
Sensing the wind, which moved from northwest to southeast at around 5 pm local time, was “an unplanned treat,” said Bruce Banerdt, InSight principal investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
NASA’s Viking 1 and 2 landers also picked up signals of the Martian wind when they landed in 1976.
They were measuring it at lower sampling rates, however, not frequencies that would be audible, and did not return sounds that people could listen to.
“Personally, listening to the sounds form the pressure sensor, reminds me of sitting outside on a windy summer afternoon, listening to the turbulent gusts come and go and whistle through your ears,” said Don Banfield, a researcher at Cornell University.
“In some sense, this is what it would sound like if you were sitting on the Insight lander on Mars.”