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NASA calculates speed of sound on Mars and finds ‘deep silence prevails’


We know what (rocky) Mars looks like. We know what it’s like (dusty, cold and windy). Now we also know what it sounds like thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover’s ability to record audio. Scientists used this data to calculate the speed of sound on the Red Planet and describe its soundscape.

Percy mostly heard the blast of wind and the noises emitted by own machines. In a statement on Friday, NASA said the rover discovered “that, most of the time, profound silence prevails” and that the speed of sound is slower on Mars than on Earth.

An international team published a study of Martian sounds last week in the journal Nature. Most of the sounds the researchers investigated came from a microphone on the SuperCam instrument located on Percy’s “head.” There’s another mic on the rover’s chassis.

It turns out that Mars has two speed limits of sound. “On Earth, sound typically travels at 767 mph (343 meters per second),” NASA said. “But on Mars, lower sounds travel at about 537 mph (240 meters per second), while higher-pitched sounds travel at 559 mph (250 meters per second).”

NASA says the planet’s thin atmosphere of mostly carbon dioxide is the reason sound behaves like it does on Mars. The atmosphere also muffles sounds, with high-pitched sounds barely traveling.

A Sounds of Mars site lets you listen to familiar sounds from Earth as they would be heard on our own planet versus how they would sound on the Red Planet. Birdsong, for example, practically disappears.

The findings match what scientists expected to find about how sound travels on Mars, but there could still be surprises in store. Researchers are curious whether seasonal changes could affect how “noisy” Mars is. Perseverance will listen.


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