Science News describes one of the odd issues facing our robotic exploration of the Red Planet, because sound waves travel differently in the thin atmosphere of Mars. Not just a different speed overall, but high-pitched sounds travel faster than low-pitched ones:
“The wind is the sound of science for us,” says astrophysicist Baptiste Chide of Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.
To listen to the wind, Perseverance carries two microphones. One was meant to record audio during the mission’s complex entry, descent and landing, and while it didn’t work as hoped, it is now turned on occasionally to listen to the rover’s vitals…. The other microphone is part of the rover’s SuperCam instrument, a mast-mounted mishmash of cameras and other sensors used to understand the properties of materials on the planet’s surface.
But these microphones also pick up other sounds, such as those made by the rover itself as its wheels crunch the surface, and by Perseverance’s flying companion, the robotic helicopter Ingenuity. The SuperCam instrument, for example, has a laser, which Perseverance fires at interesting rocks for further analysis…. The microphone on SuperCam captures sounds from those laser shots, which helps researchers learn about the hardness of the target material, says planetary scientist Naomi Murdoch of the Institut Supérieur de l’Aéronautique et de l’Espace in Toulouse, France.
Murdoch, Chide and their colleagues listened to the laser’s clack-clack when zapping rocks. (“It doesn’t do, really, ‘pew pew,’” Murdoch says). When the laser hits a target, that blast creates a sound wave. Because scientists know when the laser fires and how far away a target is, they can measure the speed at which that sound wave travels through the air toward the SuperCam microphone.
The team also used the SuperCam microphone to listen to the lower-pitch whirl of Ingenuity’s helicopter blades (SN: 12/10/21). From this lower-pitched sound, the researchers learned that there is a second speed of sound at the Martian surface at frequencies below 240 hertz, or slightly deeper than middle C on a piano: 240 m/s.
You can hear the sound of the laser and the Ingenuity helicopter at the link, and can read more of the researcher’s acoustic observations here, in Nature.