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NASA InSight hears 'haunting low rumble' on Mars

The InSight lander is listening to Mars winds and sending back the "sounds" of the Red Planet.

InSight's solar panels appear in this image from Mars on Dec. 7.

NASA/JPL-Caltech

We know what Mars looks like, but there's a lot of mystery around what Mars sounds like. NASA's InSight lander, which touched down on the Red Planet in late November, is giving us new insights into the sounds created by the planet's winds

InSight isn't exactly a recording studio on Mars, but an air pressure sensor inside the lander and a seismometer on the lander's deck were both able to pick up wind vibrations. The air sensor recorded air vibrations, while the seismometer recorded the lander's vibrations from the wind blowing across its large solar panels.

On Friday, NASA released videos with the audio tracks from InSight. You may need to put on earphones or crank up your subwoofer to hear what's going on in the first video, which is made up of raw data from the seismometer. The instrument will eventually be placed on the planet's surface to listen for marsquakes.

A second track is a little easier to hear since NASA processed it to make more audible.

"Capturing this audio was an unplanned treat," InSight principal investigator Bruce Banerdt said

NASA describes the sounds as a "haunting low rumble." The space agency estimates the wind was blowing between 10 and 15 mph (5 to 7 meters a second) on Dec. 1 when InSight collected the data. 

InSight science team member Tom Pike says the lander acts like a giant ear as the solar panels respond to the wind. "It's like InSight is cupping its ears and hearing the Mars wind beating on it," he said.

NASA also released an audio track from InSight's air pressure sensor, with the data sped up by a factor of 100 to bring it into human hearing range. 

InSight's "sound" data is fascinating, but it's just a preview of grander NASA plans when it comes to audio from Mars. The space agency's Mars 2020 rover will be equipped with two microphones. One is set to record the sound of landing on the Red Planet and the other will listen for the sounds made by a laser used to investigate materials on the surface.

The InSight audio tracks may feel familiar, like standing outside on a windy day as the air blusters around you. Banerdt says the sounds still have an otherworldly quality to them, which is fitting considering they come from so far away. 

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