A dust devil is a powerful but short-lived whirlwind that looks remarkable – and terrifying.
Perseverance, the Mars rover, accidentally caught the sound of a 390ft tall and 82ft wide red dust cloud on its microphone, which was left on by chance.
Although just 10 seconds of recording, the winds – which can reach up to 25mph – was described as a “jackpot” finding by the study lead’s author Naomi Murdoch.
The audio was recorded 27 September, 2021. As the rover’s SuperCam microphone is only switched on for less than three minutes every few days, it was “definitely luck” that the dust cloud appeared when it did according to Murdoch.
She suggested it was a 1-in-200 chance of capturing the audio.
She told AP news agency there was “only one dust devil recording” out of the 84 minutes collected in Perseverance’s first year on Mars.
The audio records the wind that comes with the dust devil initially, but it then fades because the rover is in the “eye of the vortex”. It then resumes as the dust devil moves past the rover.
The dust also hits the rover, making an extra light knocking noise.
Perseverance’s encounter could even help scientists understand why sometimes dust clouds suck up dust from rovers, and other times just seem to “move air”.
You can listen to the audio on Nasa’s website here.
The noise sounds similar to the Earth’s dust devils, but much quieter because the atmosphere is thinner on Mars, making noise much more muted and less powerful wind.
Dust devils are common on Mars and have been photographed for years, but never heard.
Co-author German Martinez of the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston told AP news agency: “It was fully caught red-handed by Persy.”
Perseverance (or Persy) has been operating in the Jezero crater since February 2021, where such dust devils are common.
The same microphone provided the first sounds from Mars (Martian wind) back in February 2021.
The rover has picked up 18 samples of rocks that may contain signs of ancient (microbial) life at the Jezero Crater, which was once the site of a river.
These samples will go back to Earth in about a decade.