Research Press Release

Astronomy: The sound of a Martian dust devil

Nature Communications

December 14, 2022

The sound recordings of a Martian dust devil travelling over the Jezero crater are described in a Nature Communications paper this week. An analysis of multi-sensor data and modelling suggests that the dust devil stood at over 118 metres tall. The findings may improve our understanding of surface changes, dust storms and climate variability on Mars, which may have implications for space exploration.

Dust devils — whirlwinds loaded with dust — are common on Mars. They are indicators of atmospheric turbulence, and are an important lifting mechanism for the Martian dust cycle. Dust grain impacts are associated with the degradation of hardware on rovers on Mars, so improving our understanding of the dust lifting process also has implications for future space exploration. The sound of a dust devil had not been recorded previously, but this could improve our understanding of wind fluxes on Mars and the meteorology of the planet.

Naomi Murdoch and colleagues unexpectedly recorded the sound of a Martian dust devil, travelling directly over the Perseverance rover, using the SuperCam microphone on board the rover. The authors combined the sound recordings with multi-sensor data and modelling to characterize the Martian dust devil. The characterization revealed that the dust devil was about 25 metres wide (almost 10 times larger than the rover) and at least 118 metres tall. The findings demonstrate that sound data is useful for studying dust devils.

As the Perseverance mission continues, additional microphone recordings may provide further dust devils encounters, allowing for comparative studies to be performed between different vortices at different geographical sites.


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