Hear NASA's Mars Perseverance Rover Zap Its SuperCam Laser on Red Planet

NASA's latest Mars rover, Perseverance, has beamed the first acoustic recording of laser sounds taken from the red planet back to Earth.

The U.S. space agency said an audio file obtained from an instrument called SuperCam contained sounds of a laser impacting its target—a rock formation named "Máaz" that was approximately 10 feet away from the exploration rover—on March 2.

The recording contains sounds of about 30 impacts, heard in a series of pops or clicks. It is used to identify and classify the structure and make-up of rocks.

While the technique itself was used in the previous rover mission, Curiosity, this one is equipped with a microphone—tech that has also now collected audio of Martian wind. The word "Máaz" translates to Mars in the Native American language Navajo.

NASA experts say variations in the intensity of the laser zaps can provide the team with information such as a rock's hardness or if weather coatings are present.

Naomi Murdoch, of the National Higher French Institute of Aeronautics and Space in Toulouse, said on Wednesday (via the BBC): "If we tap on a surface that is hard, we will not hear the same sound as when we fire on a surface that is soft.

"Take for example chalk and marble. These two materials have an identical chemical composition—calcium carbonate—but very different physical properties."

The rover's SuperCam instrument was jointly developed by the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in New Mexico alongside French research laboratories. Ultimately, it delivered the data to a French Space Agency operations center in Toulouse.

Additional audio files released by NASA this week included sounds of wind on Mars, taken by the microphone on February 19 and February 22.

The Perseverance rover was launched on July 30 last year and landed on the planet's Jezero Crater on February 18, 2021. The aim of the mission is to hunt for signs of life and collect samples of rock and soils that will potentially be returned to Earth.

Roger Wiens, principal investigator for the SuperCam instrument from Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, said: "It is amazing to see SuperCam working so well. When we first dreamed up this instrument eight years ago, we worried that we were being way too ambitious. Now it is up there working like a charm."

Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator for science at NASA Headquarters in Washington, added: "SuperCam truly gives our rover eyes to see promising rock samples and ears to hear what it sounds like when the lasers strike them.

"This.. will be essential when determining which samples to cache and ultimately return to Earth through our groundbreaking Mars Sample Return campaign, which will be one of the most ambitious feats ever undertaken by humanity."

NASA approved the exploratory first phase of the Mars Sample Return (MSR) mission in December last year. If all goes to plan, NASA will oversee two additional missions within the next 10 years, using a Sample Retrieval Lander and Earth Return Orbiter.

In theory, a "fetch rover" and "ascent vehicle" will both be transferred to Mars' surface, retrieve samples taken by Perseverance and return to the lander. An arm on the lander will put samples into a container on the ascent vehicle, and it will be launched.

While in the orbit of Mars, the Earth Return Orbiter would meet up with the container, put the samples into a sealed capsule and return to Earth in the early 2030s.

Zurbuchen previously said: "MSR is a complex campaign, and it encapsulates the very essence of pioneering space exploration—pushing the boundaries of what's capable and, in so doing, furthering our understanding of our place in the universe."

NASA’s Perseverance rover
In this handout image provided by NASA, still image is part of a video taken by several cameras aboard the descent stage as NASA’s Perseverance rover as it touched down in the area known as Jezero crater on February 18, 2021 on the planet Mars. It has now beamed the first acoustic recording of laser sounds taken from the Red Planet back to Earth. NASA/Getty Images