Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The fiery plunge to Mars by NASA’s Perseverance rover next week is expected to offer spectacular visual and audio treats for Earth-bound audiences.

As the mega-rover plows through the Mars atmosphere, watching the entry, descent and sky crane-assisted touchdown is NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).

Super-powerful High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera onboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter captured Curiosity on parachute in August 2012, heading toward its Gale Crater landing zone.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

The hope is to duplicate the view snagged by MRO of the NASA Curiosity rover’s descent back in August 2012. MRO’s super-powerful High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera captured Curiosity on parachute, heading toward its Gale Crater landing zone.

On duty for the Perseverance landing on February 18 is HiRISE said Alfred S. McEwen, principal investigator of HiRISE at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

“Yes, we will attempt to image the rover on parachute or even sky crane,” McEwen told Inside Outer Space.

NASA’s next Mars explorer, the Perseverance rover.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Acoustic exploration

Once safely landed at Jezero Crater, Perseverance is to begin the acoustic exploration of the surface of Mars thanks to two microphones, one activated during the landing phase and the other one which is part of the robot’s SuperCam instrument suite.

In a paper for the upcoming virtual meeting of the Lunar Planetary Science Conference (LPSC), lead author, Baptiste Chide, a planetary researcher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, explains that the first audible sounds from Mars may well be an earful.

For one, the SuperCam-attached microphone will open a new field of investigation on Mars by complementing the Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) investigation of the Mars surface and contribute to atmospheric science. Full LIBS, laser-popping bursts from the first to the last shot can be recorded.

SuperCam microphone integrated on the top of the Remote Sensing Mast of Perseverance robot.
Credit: NASA/JPL

Laser sparks

During tests in Denmark’s Aarhus pressure chamber they showed that LIBS acoustic signals can be retrieved. It was demonstrated that listening to laser sparks on Mars can help determine the depth of laser-induced pits in targets, the hardness of the target, and may also be used to characterize rock coatings.

Chide and colleagues also report in the LPSC paper, the microphone can record noises generated by the operations of the Perseverance rover, be they drill and drive activities, mast rotation and other sounds of other instruments.

Heavy breathing

The SuperCam microphone capturing the first sounds on Mars will be compared to prelanding expectations.

In pre-launch photo, technicians lower the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE) instrument into the belly of the Perseverance rover.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

For instance, the microphone may be used as a diagnostic tool to listen to the rover investigation, the Mars Oxygen ISRU Experiment (MOXIE). It uses pumps to suck in the carbon dioxide-laden atmosphere to breath out oxygen.

Furthermore, the listening device may also help to understand a potential failure of a rover subsystem.

Chide and the other researchers explain in the LPSC paper that all the spectacular views of the surface of Mars returned since the first on-the-spot missions are silent to a human-ear. Indeed, no microphone has ever been able to record the acoustic environment associated with these landscapes. “Operating a microphone on the surface of Mars is an unprecedented experience.”

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