NASA's Perseverance rover is on its way to Mars. The six-month journey to the Red Planet can get rather dull, but luckily the car-sized robot found a way to entertain itself in interplanetary space — conducting a brief mic check.
A microphone set up on the Perseverance rover captured a 60-second audio file of the journey through space, revealing the sounds of the spacecraft as it travels further and further away from Earth.
The Perseverance rover launched on July 30 from the Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, where the rover was strapped onto a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 541 rocket.
An hour into its flight, and Perseverance separated from the rocket and officially began its journey to Mars. Once it arrives, it will search for signs of ancient microbial life on the Red Planet.
On October 19, the rover's microphone recorded a minute of audio from space, offering us a little snippet of its time traveling through deep space.
Listen to it here:
The subdued humming heard in the clip is actually the sound of Perseverance's heat rejection fluid pump, which helps the robot maintain temperatures so it can still operate during the cold nights it will have to spend on Mars.
Sound cannot travel through the void of space, but sound waves can travel through solid objects. That is why the only audio captured by the microphone is the one traveling through the rover's heat pump, as it causes mechanical vibrations.
"With apologies to the person who came up with the slogan for 'Alien,' I guess you could say that in space no one may be able to hear you scream, but they can hear your heat rejection fluid pump," Dave Gruel, lead engineer for Mars 2020's EDL Camera and Microphone subsystem, said in a statement.
A sonic first — Perseverance is the first rover to be equipped with a microphone.
The microphone is intended to capture the sounds of Perseverance's entry into Mars' near space, its descent, and its landing on the Martian surface, when, if all goes to plan, the rover's parachute releases, the landing engines fire up, and its wheels finally make contact with the dusty surface.
Thanks to that 60-second audio file of mechanical whirring, the team behind Perseverance can now rest assured that the microphone is indeed working.
"As great as it is to pick up a little audio on spacecraft operations in-flight, the sound file has a more important meaning," Gruel said.
"It means that our system is working and ready to try to record some of the sound and fury of a Mars landing."
This is the first time ground control will try to listen in on the robot's landing on an alien planet, so they're not quite sure what to expect.
"Getting sound from landing is a nice-to-have, not a need-to-have," Gruel said.
Perseverance is supposed to arrive at Mars on February 18, 2021.
The robot will land on the Jezero Crater, a 28-mile wide, 500-meter-deep crater located in a basin slightly north of the Martian equator. Jezero Crater once housed a lake which scientists believe dried out some 3.5 to 3.8 billion years ago.
Once it lands, Perseverance will begin hunting for clues of past microbial life that may have existed in the lake during the Red Planet's early history.
The robot will collect samples of rocks and soil and set them aside for the first ever sample return mission from another planet. The rock samples will be stored away in tubes in a well-identified place on the Martian surface, and left there to be returned to Earth by a future mission to the Red Planet.