It’s been less than two weeks since NASA’s Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) lander touched down on the Martian surface. Nonetheless, it’s already conveying valuable information about our red planetary neighbor back to scientists here on Earth.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-CalTech
Soon after InSight began spreading its solar arrays and powering on certain scientific instruments, its onboard air pressure sensor and seismometer each captured subtle vibrations that could only be described as the wind on Mars. Perhaps more importantly, the recorded vibrations can be heard in the audible range of human hearing.
"Capturing this audio was an unplanned treat," explained InSight principal investigator Bruce Banerdt. "But one of the things our mission is dedicated to is measuring motion on Mars, and naturally that includes motion caused by sound waves."
Curious about what it sounded like? Well don’t think too hard about it – wind is wind, regardless of which planet it transpires on; nevertheless, you can listen to NASA’s audio full track below. Note: it’s best heard with headphones.
Citing NASA’s official statement on the matter, InSight’s air pressure sensor captured these air vibrations directly, while the lander’s seismometer captured them indirectly by way of spacecraft vibrations that were caused by wind moving over the solar panels. Given the circumstances, one might say that each sensor validated the other’s findings.
The recordings were captured on December 1st, and as it would seem from the data, the wind was blowing approximately 10-15 miles per hour from Northwest to Southeast.
“The InSight lander acts like a giant ear,” said InSight science team member Tom Pike. "The solar panels on the lander's sides respond to pressure fluctuations of the wind. It's like InSight is cupping its ears and hearing the Mars wind beating on it. When we looked at the direction of the lander vibrations coming from the solar panels, it matches the expected wind direction at our landing site."
While it’s undoubtedly remarkable to have heard the winds of Mars for the very first time, InSight’s seismometer has a significantly more critical task ahead: attempting to detect and study the mechanisms behind Marsquakes.
With a little luck, perhaps InSight will give planetary scientists a better understanding of how Mars formed. Still, only time will tell.