If you hope to one day visit Mars, expect everything to sound much slower than on Earth and eerily quiet, according to new research using NASA’s Perseverance rover.
Before the rover landed on the red planet in February 2021, NASA researchers knew sound would be different, but it had never been observed before. Using a microphone on the Perseverance, researchers collected audio samples from the moment it landed, recording noises such as its movement around the planet, the rover cutting up rocks for sampling and winds.
The findings, which were published in the journal Nature on Friday, stunned researchers. Sylvestre Maurice, an astrophysicist at the University of Toulouse in France and lead author of the study, said the team first thought something was wrong.
“At some point, we thought the microphone was broken, it was so quiet,” he said in a statement.
Not only did the noise seem quiet, but the recordings showed that sound was much slower compared to sound on Earth, and the speed of sounds changed depending on their pitch, with higher pitches traveling faster.
In October, NASA used early samples taken from the microphones to simulate what sounds on Earth – like ocean waves, bicycle bells and humans speaking – would be like on Mars. The simulations showed the sound to be quieter and slower.
NASA says many factors change the sound quality on the two planets.
Mars is significantly colder than Earth, and the well-below-freezing temperatures mean sound takes longer to travel. The speed of sound on Earth is around 767 miles per hour, while on Mars it’s 537 miles per hour. Higher-pitched sounds moved at 559 miles per hour.
Another reason is Mars’ atmosphere; 96% of it is made up of carbon dioxide, which absorbs high-pitched sounds, so only low-pitched sounds can be heard at farther distances. NASA said sounds drop off on Earth around 213 feet, while on Mars, it’s only 26 feet. This means it would be hard to have a conversation with someone around 15 feet away from you.
The density of Mars’ atmosphere is also 100 times less than Earth’s, so sound is softer there.
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However, researchers believe this isn’t always the case on the planet. It’s currently autumn on Mars, which may allow sounds to be clearer.
“We are entering a high-pressure season,” Chide said. “Maybe the acoustic environment on Mars will be less quiet than it was when we landed.”
Follow Jordan Mendoza on Twitter: @jordan_mendoza5.