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AV in Space: DPA mics capture audio from the surface of Mars

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Kelly Ross Audiovisual

NASA’s Perseverance Rover successfully reached Mars last week following a seven-month journey in space to land on the ‘red planet’. Alongside a 1.8kg camera helicopter there was also AV equipment on board the one tonne robot.

The AV equipment being used on the mission includes a DPA 4006 Omnidirectional Microphone, MMA-A Digital Audio Interface and MMP-G Modular Active Cable, which have provided the first true audio ever captured on the surface of Mars. The sounds, which are literally otherworldly, pick up the mechanical rover whirs along with the Martian breeze.

Image/Audio credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The 60 second audio was captured on 20th February, just two days after Perseverance touched down on Mars following its 239 million-mile journey. It is an incredible feat for the rover and its AV equipment to have survived the 'seven minutes of terror' when it endured tumultuous conditions that battered the craft as it entered the Martian atmosphere and approached the surface.

Dave Gruel, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is in charge of Perseverance's EDL (Entry, Descent & Landing) camera system, which includes an off-the-shelf commercial mic built by Danish company DPA Microphones. Unfortunately, the microphone didn’t capture the ‘seven minutes of terror’ but sprung to life later on to record the historic sound snippet on Saturday.

During a NASA press conference on 22nd February Dave commented the audio was "Really neat — overwhelming, if you will."

A second microphone also made it to Mars and is attached to the SuperCam instrument, which is yet to start running. Its aim will be to help the mission team characterise target rocks, revealing how hard they are and whether they have a thin coating. It is hoped this mic could also capture other sounds as well, such as Martian breezes and the crunch of dirt beneath Perseverance's wheels.

In an interview with Space.com Gruel said Perseverance may be able to record stereo sound on Mars at some point, by using the EDL and SuperCam mics in concert. There are no guarantees, however; the EDL mic was not optimized for use on the harsh, frigid Martian surface, so it's unclear how long it will last.

The Mars mission is an ambitious one that sees audio visual playing a huge role in gathering valuable insight into Mars. We’re excited to hear the next recordings that come from the ‘red planet’.