For the first time, you can hear the sound of NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter flying on Mars

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NASA’s Ingenuity Mars helicopter (left) and Perseverance rover (right).

A ghostly hum has been echoing across the plains of Mars’ Jezero Crater. It’s the sound of NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter spinning its rotor blades at unearthly speeds and lifting itself away from the Martian dust. For the first time, you can hear it yourself.

NASA’s Perseverance rover, which carried Ingenuity to Mars, has recorded video of each of the helicopter’s four flights thus far. But during the chopper’s fourth flight on April 30, Perseverance’s microphone was on. It captured the sound of otherworldly flight from 262 feet away.

The dominant sound in the video, below, is the rumble of wind blowing across the open plain. But if you turn the volume up high, you’ll hear the helicopter whir as its spinning blades lift it from the ground. The sound gets loudest when Ingenuity flies across the camera’s field of view.

“This is a very good surprise,” David Mimoun, the science lead for the Perseverance rover’s microphone, said in a press release. “We had carried out tests and simulations that told us the microphone would barely pick up the sounds of the helicopter, as the Mars atmosphere damps the sound propagation strongly. We have been lucky to register the helicopter at such a distance. This recording will be a gold mine for our understanding of the Martian atmosphere.”

Scientists had to tweak the original audio a bit in order to isolate the sound of the rotor blades – they reduced the volume of frequencies above and below the helicopter noise.

Ingenuity is about to start a new mission

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Ingenuity, photographed on Mars by the Perseverance rover on April 4, 2021.

Ingenuity’s rotor blades have to spin at more than 2,500 rotations per minute – roughly five times the speed of a passenger helicopter on Earth. That’s the only way the drone can gain enough traction in the thin Martian air, which has about 1% the density of Earth’s atmosphere. It’s the equivalent of flying at three times the height of Mount Everest.

For the flight in the video – Ingenuity’s fourth – the rotor blades lifted it 16 feet off the ground. Then it flew south for about 436 feet, snapping photos of the Martian surface along the way. It stopped, hovered, and flew back to its original landing spot. The drone reached a record speed of 3.5 meters per second.

The NASA team the data that Ingenuity’s cameras gathered to make a 3D map of the Martian terrain and pick out a new airfield for the helicopter. During its next flight, which is scheduled for Friday, Ingenuity is set to retrace its path to this new location then land there. It will be the helicopter’s first one-way flight. Before landing, the drone is set to climb a record 33 feet high.

NASA’s original plan was to abandon the helicopter after its fifth flight. But Ingenuity has proven so successful that the agency decided to give it a secondary mission. From its new airfield, Ingenuity will begin testing operations that the agency might want to conduct with future space helicopters.

That includes scouting and mapping, observing interesting features of Mars from the air, and exploring rough terrain that rovers can’t access.

“The ability to fly the helicopter out into terrain that the rover cannot possibly traverse and bring back scientific data – this is extremely important for future missions that could combine a rover with a reconnaissance helicopter,” Perseverance scientist Ken Farley said in a briefing on April 30.

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For the first time, we have an audio recording from the surface of Mars – take a listen

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The first high-resolution, color image sent back by the Hazard Cameras on NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover after its landing on February 18, 2021.

For the first time in history, we have an audio recording from the surface of another planet. 

NASA’s Perseverance rover landed on Mars Thursday, using a jetpack to maneuver to a safe spot in the 28-mile-wide Jezero Crater. On Saturday, microphones attached to the rover captured an unprecedented audio recording.

NASA released two versions of the 60-second audio on Monday, one of which includes noise from the rover and the other, below, with the rover sounds filtered out.

Listen to the sounds of a Martian breeze, audible for a few seconds.

 

“Just imagine yourself sitting on the surface of Mars and listening to the surroundings,” Dave Gruel, NASA’s lead engineer for Perseverance’s camera and microphone systems, said during a Monday press conference. “Here 10 seconds in was an actual wind gust on the surface of Mars, picked up by the microphone and sent back to us here on Earth.”

The wind was gusting at 5 meters per second (11 mph), Gruel added.

The experience of listening to it, he said, was “overwhelming, if you will.”

The rover will collect more sounds on its 2-year mission

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A photo of NASA’s Perseverance rover just feet above the Martian surface – part of a video recorded of the landing on February 18, 2021.

Perseverance launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in July and traveled nearly 300 million miles to reach Mars.

Engineers equipped the rover with two microphones. The Entry Descent and Landing (EDL) Cam microphone was primarily meant to record sounds from the landing (and from Perseverance’s journey through space). Although in the end it did not capture any audio on Thursday, it survived the descent so could record future sounds on the Martian surface.

The other mic was designed to listen to sounds from the rover, specifically its SuperCam laser instrument, which zaps Mars rocks and soil. Putting a microphone on the SuperCam gives the rover and the scientists analyzing its data another “sense” with which to probe Martian rock. The laser should make a staccato pop when it vaporizes Martian rock.

According to Gruel, both microphones will continue collecting audio during the rest of Perseverance’s mission. The rover is poised to spend the next two years scouring the river delta of Jezero Crater for signs of ancient alien life, and should collect its first rock samples this summer if all goes according to plan.

“We’re counting on both of these instruments recording some absolutely amazing sounds from the surface of Mars,” Gruel said.

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An artist’s illustration shows NASA’s Perseverance rover and Ingenuity helicopter on Mars.

Perseverance is NASA’s fifth and most sophisticated Mars rover. The agency equipped two Martian spacecraft with microphones in the past, but one of those – the Mars Polar Lander – failed, and the other – the Phoenix lander – never turned on its microphone. 

NASA’s InSight lander, which touched down on Mars in 2018, enabled scientists to listen to the Martian wind in a different way. The lander was equipped with a seismometer to study Mars quakes, but the tool also sensed the vibrations that wind caused as it gusted across InSight’s solar panels. The low-pitch sounds of these vibrations were audible to the human ear

“We know the public is fascinated with Mars exploration, so we added the EDL Cam microphone to the vehicle because we hoped it could enhance the experience, especially for visually-impaired space fans, and engage and inspire people around the world,” Gruel said a NASA press release.

Morgan McFall-Johnsen contributed reporting to this story.

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