Mars has air about 1% as thick as Earth’s. That’s so feeble, you might not hear someone talking to you from a few feet away.
Nevertheless, wind and tornado-like dust devils do blow across the Martian surface, and recording the sounds of these phenomena is essential to the success of NASA’s newest mission at the red planet.
NASA landed its InSight spacecraft on a flat Martian plain on November 26. The probe is surveying its landing site with a robotic arm and a suite of instruments to help managers of the $830 million robot plan their next moves.
[Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/CNES/IPGP/Imperial College/Cornell]
One of the lander’s biggest goals is to listen for seismic rumbles called “Mars quakes.” But NASA researchers said Friday during a press briefing that InSight’s vibration-sensing seismometer tool is so sensitive that winds can affect its readings. That can happen if wind blows against the instrument itself or if it causes the lander’s solar panels to move ever-so-slightly.
InSight’s robotic arm will eventually place the seismometer — a dome-shaped instrument called SEIS— onto the Martian surface. But right now, it’s still on top of the car-sized spacecraft’s upper deck.
“It’s a little like a flag waving in the wind,” Thomas Pike, the lead scientist behind the SEIS instrument and an engineer at Imperial College London, said during the briefing.