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NASA’s InSight Lander Beams Back the Sounds of Mars

NASA’s InSight lander arrived on Mars in 2018, after which the team spent months carefully surveying its surroundings and deploying a suite of instruments that will peer inside the red planet. One of those instruments is a seismometer, which has recorded the rumbles of another planet for the first time. It’s also able to pick up the faint, otherworldly sounds of Mars. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) has released a copy of those sounds, recorded on Mars earlier this year. 

Unlike Curiosity and the upcoming Mars 2020 mission, InSight is non-mobile. NASA had to choose a target area where InSight could set up shop, but the lander handled the rocket-powered landing autonomously. NASA deployed the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) after building a mockup of the landing zone on Earth in the weeks following the landing. 

With SEIS, we’re getting our first data on seismic activity on Mars, but the sensitivity of the monitor also allows us to record the sounds of Mars. Previously, the instrument allowed NASA to reconstruct the sound of Martian wind based on the vibration of the lander’s solar panels. Now, a recording from March of this year includes the sound of wind, InSight’s robotic arm moving, and subtle clicking as parts inside the seismometer shift. 

JPL recommends you use headphones to listen to the above recording — that way you’ll really feel like you’re on Mars. Well, except for all the breathable air and comfortable temperatures. Still, you can hear the sounds of Mars from millions of miles away. 

The gusts of wind are constant on Mars, but the atmospheric pressure is so low that you wouldn’t be able to hear them unaided. The robotic arm was moving during this recording to snap photos, and parts inside the seismometer shift in response to temperature changes. Those sounds are too faint as well. JPL sped up all the signals by 10 times to bring them into the range of human hearing. 

The SEIS package is on Mars to track seismic signals, and it’s doing its job. Like the sounds from the surface, Martian quakes are below the threshold of human hearing. The quake recording above comes from the “very broad band sensors” on SEIS. The recording has been sped up significantly so you can hear it. 

While SEIS is performing as expected, the lander’s Heat Flow and Physical Properties Probe (HP3) isn’t working as well. This “self-hammering nail” is supposed to take the planet’s temperature, but the probe has only tunneled a foot (30 centimeters) into the ground instead of 16 feet as planned. The team thinks the Martian sand might not provide enough friction for the instrument to dig down. We hope to get another update on this instrument soon.

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