NASA’s Perseverance Records a Martian Dust Devil

December 13, 2022
CreditNASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/CNES/CNRS/INTA-CSIC/Space Science Institute/ISAE-Supaero
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This video and audio show the results of NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover using its SuperCam microphone to record the sounds of a Martian dust devil – the first time any such recording has been made. The dust devil passed directly over Perseverance on Sept. 27, 2021, the 215th Martian day, or sol, of the mission.

At the same time that SuperCam’s microphone recorded the dust devil, Perseverance’s weather sensors (measuring wind, pressure, temperature, and dust) and the rover’s left navigation camera were on. This allowed scientists to combine sound, image, and atmospheric data. The unique combination of this data, along with atmospheric modeling, allowed the researchers to estimate the dust devil’s dimensions: 82 feet (25 meters) wide, at least 387 feet (118 meters) tall, and moving at about 12 mph (19 kph).

Capturing a passing dust devil takes some luck. Scientists can’t predict when they’ll pass by, so rovers like Perseverance and Curiosity routinely monitor in all directions for them. When scientists see them occur more frequently at a certain time of day, or approach from a certain direction, they use that information to focus their monitoring to try to catch a dust devil.

The video included here has four rows based on different data sources:

The top row is a raw image taken by the left navigation camera’s view of the Martian surface. While the camera is capable of color, it takes black-and-white images when searching for dust devils to reduce the amount of data sent back to Earth (since most of the images come back without a dust devil detected).

The second row shows the same image processed with change-detection software to indicate where movement occurred over the course of the recording. The color indicates the density of dust, going from blue (lower density) through purple to yellow (highest density).

The third row is a graph showing a sudden drop in air pressure recorded by Perseverance’s weather sensor suite, called Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer, provided by Centro de Astrobiología (CAB) at the Instituto Nacional de Tecnica Aeroespacial in Madrid.

The fourth row indicates sound amplitude from SuperCam’s microphone.

A key objective for Perseverance’s mission on Mars is astrobiology, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life. The rover will characterize the planet’s geology and past climate, pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet, and be the first mission to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith (broken rock and dust).

Subsequent NASA missions, in cooperation with ESA (European Space Agency), would send spacecraft to Mars to collect these sealed samples from the surface and return them to Earth for in-depth analysis.

The Mars 2020 Perseverance mission is part of NASA’s Moon to Mars exploration approach, which includes Artemis missions to the Moon that will help prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet.

JPL, which is managed for NASA by Caltech in Pasadena, California, built and manages operations of the Perseverance rover.

For more about Perseverance: