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spaceSpace and Physics

Perseverance Records First Laser Shots On Mars And It’s A “Snap!” Not A “Pew!”

author

Katy Evans

Managing Editor

clockMar 11 2021, 12:37 UTC
Perseverance

They see me rollin'. Perseverance takes its first test drive, a little stroll around Jezaro Crater, on March 4, 2021. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Perseverance has achieved yet another milestone in the brief time it has been on the Red Planet: the first-ever recording of lasers being fired on Mars. No, this isn’t the rover living out its space battle fantasies, nor is it hunting down Curiosity to reign supreme over the planet’s small robotic population. This is zapping rocks with lasers, for science!

The audio – which is more like a “snap snap!” than “pew pew!” – is the first acoustic recording of a laser impacting a rock target on Mars. This is something rovers do to generate a cloud of vaporized rock, which they can then analyze the composition of using their suite of instruments, including cameras and spectrometers.

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In the audio released by NASA, you can hear 30 “snaps”, some louder than others, in quick succession. Perseverance’s SuperCam fired the laser, which can reach targets of 7 meters (23 feet) away, on March 2, or sol 12 (a sol is a Martian day). In this case, the target was a rock named Máaz, the Navajo word for Mars, about 3.1 meters (10 feet) away.

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The rover's SuperCam instrument uses its microphones, cameras, and spectrometers to examine the rocks and soil, seeking organic compounds that could provide evidence of ancient life on Mars. 

The variations in the sound of the zaps also tells us information about the physical structure of the rocks, such as their density, hardness, and whether they have weathered coatings – something analyzing chemical compositions can't tell us on their own. Chalk, limestone, and marble have the same chemical composition, after all.

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Perseverance is the first Mars rover to come equipped with microphones, which means it can document its travels to Mars like no other, opening up the possibilities of what we can learn about the Red Planet. Not only could we listen to the sounds of the rover (snug aboard Mars 2020) whizzing through deep space on its way to Mars, but on landing, it recorded the first-ever audio from another planet.

Now, NASA has also released the first eerie sound of the wind whistling on Mars. 

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Recorded on February 22, or sol 4, the audio is a bit muffled as the mic is located at the top of SuperCam's mast, and the mast was still down at this point. But to be able to hear the whoosh of the wind while looking at the rover's incredible first images of the Martian landscape is the closest we're going to get to experiencing standing on Mars for some time.

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Perseverance is currently exploring a part of Jezero Crater its team has dubbed Canyon de Chelly, after a national monument on Navajo land in northeastern Arizona. It's still testing out some of its instruments after it took its first test drive on Mars last week, but it hasn't started its science in earnest yet. Its first big task is to find a suitable area to launch the helicopter Ingenuity, the first helicopter drone to test powered flight on another world.


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