Sound controls

Speed ​​of sound slower than on Earth

Interplanetary spacecraft have returned hundreds of stunning photographs of the surface of Mars over the past 50 years, but not a single sound. Everything changed thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

A new study, based on recordings made by its Perseverance rover and published in the journal Nature, has found that the speed of sound is slower on Mars than on Earth, and the planet is mostly silent.

The research team behind Perseverance’s Franco-American SuperCam2 equipment was convinced that studying the soundscape of Mars could help us better understand the planet. The team in Toulouse, France, therefore designed a microphone dedicated to the exploration of Mars in response to this scientific challenge.

The first sounds of Mars were captured by Perseverance on February 19, 2021, the day after its arrival. Between 20 Hz and 20 kHz, these sounds fall within the human hearing range. They demonstrate that Mars is silent, so silent that scientists have taken the microphone to break several times.

The study indicates that apart from the wind, natural sound sources are rare. In addition to this, the scientists studied the sounds produced by the rover itself, such as the shock waves caused by the SuperCam laser impacting rocks and the flights of the Ingenuity helicopter.

They were able to precisely characterize the acoustic characteristics of the Martian atmosphere by studying the propagation of these sounds on Mars. Whose behavior is well understood on Earth.

The researchers discovered that the speed of sound on Mars is slower than on Earth: 240 m/s against 340 m/s on our planet. The most striking finding is that there are two different rates of sound on Mars, one for high-pitched noises and one for low frequencies.

On Mars, sound attenuation is stronger than on Earth, especially for high frequencies which, unlike low frequencies, attenuate quickly even over short distances, the study indicates.

All of this would make it difficult for two people standing just five meters apart to be able to converse and hear each other.

This is due to the composition of the Martian atmosphere (96% CO2, compared to 0.04% on Earth) and the extremely low atmospheric surface pressure (170 times that of Earth).

After a year of mission, a total of five hours of recordings of the auditory environment have been acquired.

The sound produced by the turbulence of the Martian atmosphere has become perceptible thanks to an in-depth analysis. Studying this turbulence, at scales 1,000 times smaller than anything previously known, could help us better understand how Mars’ atmosphere interacts with its surface.

Other robots equipped with microphones could be used in the future to help us better understand planetary atmospheres.

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