NASA has released an audio recording of its Perseverance rover firing lasers on the martian surface. The strikes, which sound like a series of small clicks, are designed to help scientists analyze the rocks around the rover. In this case the target was a rock called “Máaz,” which scientists were able to discover was basaltic, BBC News reports, meaning it contains a lot of magnesium and iron.
According to NASA’s site, the laser is fired by Perseverance’s “SuperCam,” and allows the rover to “zap and study areas on a rock as small as the period at the end of this sentence” from a distance of 20 feet (7 meters) away. Once the laser has fired at a rock, it uses its camera and spectrometer to analyze the hot gas the rock is vaporized into. The sound the laser creates offers additional data on the rock being studied.
You’re listening to the first audio recordings of laser strikes on Mars. These rhythmic tapping sounds heard by the microphone on my SuperCam instrument have different intensities that can help my team figure out the structure of the rocks around me. https://t.co/nfWyOyfhNy
— NASA’s Perseverance Mars Rover (@NASAPersevere) March 10, 2021
Since its successful landing last month, Perseverance has sent back a variety of images and audio recordings from the surface of Mars. Although images from the planet are nothing new, this is the first time a Mars rover has actually used a microphone from the surface of Mars. NASA’s site notes that of two previous spacecraft that have carried microphones to Mars, one failed, and the other never turned its microphone on.
All of these data points are essential to help the SUV-sized rover as it goes about its mission seeking out signs of life and analyzing the geology of the red planet. It’s currently scheduled to spend one Mars year, or two Earth years, exploring the area around its landing site, which is suspected to have been a lake billions of years ago.