December 28, 2022

Scientists have recorded the first-ever sound of a dust devil on Mars


Professor Roger Wiens has been receiving audio recordings from Mars. - (Photo courtesy of Purdue University)

Professor Roger Wiens has been receiving audio recordings from Mars.

(Photo courtesy of Purdue University)

Scientists have recorded the first-ever sound of a dust devil on Mars.

The recording sounds like it could have been made in any windy corner of Earth - but it was actually captured over 54 million miles away.

Dust devils are strong, tornado-like whirlwinds that last only a brief moment - pushing dust and dirt up into the air.

Purdue University professor Roger Wiens oversees the part of the Perseverance rover responsible for recording. He said when his team initially tried to get a microphone put on Mars - NASA wouldn’t bite.

“They said you have to have a scientific reason to get it to Mars, because it’s going to cost a bunch of money,” Wiens said. “We started to put our heads together and started to look into what scientific findings would we expect from a microphone on Mars?”

Wiens and his team have come up with two reasons: detecting the density of rocks on Mars, and gaining a better understanding of its weather.

“We do have a weather station on board the rover, but it doesn’t have a cadence of measuring the wind speed in close succession,” Wiens said. “The microphone actually gets us faster measurements that can give us insight into micro turbulence – very rapid fluctuations in the Mars wind speed.”

Turbulence is especially interesting, according to Wiens, because of how thin the Martian atmosphere is.

“The air temperature just above the ground, near your ankle, is quite warm in the mid-day,” he said. “But up at eye level it’s like thirty degrees Fahrenheit colder than it is down at your ankles, and that’s just because of the thinness of the air. What that does is create huge instability.”

Wiens said his team is studying how that instability can create different weather phenomena, including dust devils.

But Wiens said his team is also having a lot of fun getting audio clips from another planet.

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