SuperCam records first audio of Martian dust devil

A 387-foot dust devil passed directly over the Perseverance rover

January 4, 2023

Audio and visual data from the dust devil that passed over the Perseverance rover. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/CNES/CNRS/INTA-CSIC/Space Science Institute/ISAE-SUPAERO

Researchers from Los Alamos National Laboratory are part of a team that, for the first time, recorded the sound of a Martian dust devil. The results were published in Nature Communications.

“We were able to record, for the first time on Mars, the sound of a dust devil passing over the rover and sand grains impacting the structure of the rover,” said Baptiste Chide, a Lab postdoctoral fellow in the Space and Remote Sensing group and author on the paper. “Understanding dust devils on Mars is fundamental because they are at the origin of dust lifting, and dust is a key factor that controls the climate of Mars.”

The audio data collected by the microphone on SuperCam, a Los Alamos-led instrument, and the images captured by Navcam show that the dust devil stood at more than 118 meters (387 feet) tall and 25 meters (82 feet) wide. The findings may improve researchers’ understanding of surface changes, dust storms and climate variability on Mars.

Important data in Martian dust and wind

Dust devils are common on Mars and are indicators of atmospheric turbulence, which are an important lifting mechanism in the Martian dust cycle. Dust grain impacts are associated with the degradation of hardware on rovers on Mars, so improving understanding of the dust lifting process also has implications for future space exploration. The sound of a dust devil had not been recorded previously, but this could improve scientists’ understanding of wind fluxes on Mars and the meteorology of the planet.

As the Perseverance mission continues, researchers hope they will encounter more dust devils, which could provide comparative data.

“We were really lucky to catch this dust devil with the microphone, weather station and camera on all at the same time,” Chide said. “This was quite an opportunity to study it in detail.”