The Mars 2020 mission teams have just accomplished a scientific feat by recording both the sound and images of a Martian dust devil for the first time ever. This feat was made possible by combined usage of the various sensors on the Perseverance Rover, including the SuperCam microphone, designed by ISAE-SUPAERO, CNES and the JPL.
Le son d’un « diable de poussière » martien capturé par le microphone ISAE-SUPAERO sur Persévérance !
The teams were able to record the exact moment when the whirlwind of dust passed vertically over the rover. At that moment, all of its meteorological sensors for measuring pressure, temperature, dust and wind, as well as a camera and microphone were switched on and it was possible to record both the sound and image as well as all the atmospheric information. The model drawn up by the scientists based on this unique combination of multiple data sources, enabled them to calculate that the dust devil was about 25 meters wide, almost 10 times the size of the rover, at least 118 meters high and that it was moving at a speed of around 19 km/h.
A NEW MARTIAN FIRST
Although this phenomenon is common on the surface of Mars, especially in the Jezero crater where the Perseverance Rover is located, the sound of a dust devil had never been recorded until then. There was indeed only 1 chance in 200 of hearing such a whirlwind with the microphone recording.
An additional step has just been taken in understanding atmospheric phenomena on Mars!
The questions raised are many, why is the Jezero crater crossed by so many dust devils while other areas are covered with stagnant dust? Is it related to weather conditions or processes that lift the dust? To find answers to these questions, the ISAE-SUPAERO research team focused on analyzing the particle fluxes carried by this vortex.
« The soundtrack is extremely rich. » explained Martin Gillier, PhD student who studies the data from the Martian microphone at ISAE-SUPAERO, « We can hear the wind associated with the vortex, but also hundreds of dust grain impacts. »
This is the first time that an instrument on Mars has been able to directly measure the particle flux transported by the wind. This is an important measure giving us a better understanding of how dust is lifted from the surface of Mars. It will greatly improve our ability to predict dust storms and climate variability on the planet. This information is also important for future space exploration, as grain impacts damage the equipment on the surface of Mars.
« Our team has been convinced for years of the scientific interest of microphones for a better understanding of the Martian atmosphere. This encounter with the dust devil demonstrates the strong potential of acoustic data in planetary exploration », said Naomi Murdoch, ISAE-SUPAERO researcher and lead author of the study.
It is certain that new sound recordings of dust devils will be made by Perseverance which will enable comparative studies to be made between various dust devils at different Martian sites and thereby improve our understanding of the climate.
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