The first sound ever recorded from space was the wind vibrations on the Red Planet.

Whenever people talk about Mars, its either finding aliens or water. This would be really amazing if we had evidence of carbon-based life on Mars. Surprisingly, we just heard a rumble on Mars that didn’t come from some Red Planet monster, but from the vibrations in the constant Martian wind. It seems that’s the stunt the Red Planet often play and we just got hold of evidence; the InSight lander recorded the first sound on Mars with the aid of a seismometer and an air pressure sensor. Having this piece of evidence, we’d learn more about our planetary neighbor.

Related media: NASA Records Wind And Air Pressure Sounds On Mars


Sighs And Sounds Of The Red Planet

Since the 1960s, we’ve been sending probes to Mars, so what took us such a long time to capture sound? Short answer: Bad luck! Mars landing is really tough, you ask the Curiosity Rover; this is because Mars is a different planet altogether and makes a terrible atmosphere for probes to touch down on their own. The planet is really far away for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), or other agencies to reach and just land. The average radio wave signal even takes 20 minutes to reach Mars, and we’re even getting better at Mars landing, but over the past decades, many probes might have crash landed or disappeared.

The Planetary Society back in 1999 did provide a microphone as part of the NASA’s Mars Polar Lander mission, but unfortunately, the probe crash landed on the Martian surface due to a miscalculation flaw of converting metrics and imperial units. Yet again another microphone made it to the Martian surface via NASA’s Mars Phoenix Polar Lander in 2007, but also being an unfortunate situation, it had technical difficulties with it’s controllers from switching on.

In a 2016 article published on Astronomy, it talks about the difficulties of trying to even justify a microphone on a Mars mission, which further explains that the microphone has to compete for space on a spacecraft with cameras, spectrometers, and all other instruments that tend to carry so much mass.


We’re InSight, And We’re Listening

Image: NASA | Artist concept of InSight on Mars

As Bruce Betts, then-director of science and technology for the Planetary Society, explains:

“Though their most compelling feature is public interest, microphones would produce some science, such as wind sounds and possibly sounds like lightning or blowing sand. A microphone would also be good for engineering: hearing wheels turning and motors working. And microphones require little in the way of mass, power, or data.”

Fortunately enough, the NASA’s InSight finally made a breakthrough. The stationary probe landed on the surface of the Red Planet on November 26, 2018, amidst the odds, it’s quest is to hunt for signs of Martian seismic history — “marsquakes,” volcanic activity, planetary wobbles. The probe is also going lead a mission that would eventually reveal a lot about the Martian planetary history. Here’s the case: it will do all that while it’s stationary, no roving.

The sound recorded from the Red Planet came from two instruments that aren’t technically microphones — a seismometer that was built in the United Kingdom  — detected the sound vibrations from the Martian wind as it blew pass the solar panels. Meanwhile, the air pressure sensor picked up vibrations from the surrounding atmosphere. But unfortunately, this didn’t last for long, the seismometer had to move on to it’s main mission; it meant probe the Martian surface in search for signs of marsquakes.


Oh Red, We Can Hear You Now

“This is brilliant news because it means we know the sensors have survived the rigours of landing on Mars and are meeting the requirements to achieve their science goals. It is just amazing to hear the first ever sounds from Mars,” said Sue Horne, the head of exploration at the United Kingdom Space Agency, in a press release.

We’re should be grateful for this success because it was due to a problem with a seismometer that delayed InSight’s expected launch in 2016, which took a couple of years until Mars got back into the right geodesic position in the solar system required for a launch. NASA even wanted to cancel the mission but eventually raised some extra funds to carry on due to the delay, and launched the lander in 2018. After two years of delay, what wonders can we expect from InSight? Stay tuned!


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Written by: Nana Kwadwo, Sun, Apr 07, 2019.


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