NASA's Perseverance rover was caught in a dust devil on Mars. As a result, we have the first-ever recording of a Martian dust devil, this one more than 400 feet tall and 80 feet across, per the AP. Martian dust devils are common, particularly at Perseverance's landing site in Jezero Crater, and have been photographed for decades. "Nearly every Mars rover has experienced them in some way," according to NASA. But "capturing a passing dust devil takes some luck," the agency notes. "Scientists can't predict when they'll pass by, so rovers like Perseverance and Curiosity routinely monitor in all directions for them."
Though Perseverance uses its microphone only sparingly—it recorded just 84 minutes of audio in its first year on Mars—the device was listening when the dust devil sped over the rover on Sept. 27, 2021. The audio is short because the dust devil passed by so quickly, traveling at 16 feet per second, per the AP. Still, the recording captured rumbling wind gusts of up to 25mph. "It sounds strikingly similar to dust devils on Earth, although quieter, since Mars' thin atmosphere makes for more muted sounds and less forceful wind," the AP reports.
The recording also captured the pinging of hundreds of dust particles against the rover—308 pings to be exact, says Naomi Murdoch of the University of Toulouse, who helped build the rover and authored a study on the chance encounter, published Tuesday in Nature Communications. It notes data from Perseverance's other sensors help scientists get a handle on the movement of Martian dust. "Improving our understanding of dust lifting and atmospheric transport is key for accurate simulation of the dust cycle and for the prediction of dust storms, in addition to being important for future space exploration as grain impacts are implicated in the degradation of hardware on the surface of Mars," the study adds. (Read more Mars stories.)