New audio returned from the rover's SuperCam includes the popping sound of the instrument as it zaps rocks with its laser. It's the first time we've heard what it sounds like when a laser interacts with a rock on another planet. Some of the rover's instruments are still being tested for readiness, but SuperCam has already returned its first results, including those sounds of it zapping rocks to learn more about their composition.
What, exactly, do these recordings tell scientists? There is a shift in some of the pops because some sound louder than others. Researchers can use these variations to understand more about the physical structure of rocks, including how hard they are. Capturing audio is just one of the SuperCam's capabilities. It's a 12-pound sensor head on the rover's mast, or neck, that can analyze the intriguing geology on Mars in five different ways. The instrument includes a camera, laser and spectrometers that can identify the chemical and mineral composition of rocks and soil.
Scientists can use SuperCam to help them select which rocks they collect samples from in the search for ancient microbial life on Mars. Future missions will return those samples to Earth in the 2030s.
"It is amazing to see SuperCam working so well on Mars," said Roger Wiens, principal investigator for SuperCam at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, in a statement. "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."
The instrument was developed by a joint team from both the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and the Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales in France.
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