“We initiated, with the microphone on Perseverance, the acoustic exploration of the solar system”

Dr Baptiste Chide, Los Alamos National Laboratory

For our first episode of the Machine Listening Podcast, we spoke with planetary scientist Dr Baptiste Chide from Los Alamos National Laboratory. Baptiste is a key member of the team who gave the NASA Perseverance Mars Rover the ability to listen to the alien planet.

Adding the sense of hearing to a spacecraft was previously considered a public outreach or PR opportunity by NASA as there weren’t any sounds on the red planet. However, on Perseverance, they took their own sound source with them – the SuperCam laser, which zaps rocks.

Scientists including Dr Chide were able to prove that the sound of the laser sparks would give information on the rock types. As a result, two microphones were included to record the sounds of the laser as well as the spacecraft moving around the Martian surface, the atmosphere and even the first flight of the Ingenuity helicopter. All of which will open a new area of space exploration. He hopes that NASA will use microphones on all the planets that have an atmosphere dense enough for sound to propagate, such as Venus and Saturn’s moon Titan.

Baptiste talked to us about the challenges of adding hardware that has to go through the harsh conditions of space flight as well as the realities of life on another planet. He talked about the interesting scientific discoveries that have been made by studying the sounds and what it felt like to be one of the first people to hear from the surface of Mars.

He said, “It was the first time that we were able to associate the sounds with the images we took on Mars. We had these landscapes, we had the headphones with the rumble of the wind and it was quite immersive. We were on Mars. It was very emotional.”

You can listen to the episode below or wherever you get your podcasts: Apple, Spotify, Amazon, Google, etc.

I hope that you enjoy this episode of The Machine Listening Podcast. It was fascinating for my colleague Arnoldas Jasonas and I to chat with Baptiste about his work and the future applications for the sense of hearing in ground-breaking space research.

If you want to learn more then please visit the Mars Mission page on the NASA website. You can hear more sounds from Mars by visiting a dedicated audio page. And you can learn more about the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Main image source: Sébastien Chastanet/ OMP

Image of the Perseverance Rover: NASA/JPL-Caltech