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Perseverance records itself driving on Mars, and it sounds brutal

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One of the unexpectedly interesting things about Perseverance, the plucky rover that landed on Mars last month, has been its ability to record sound, using two onboard microphones. We’ve heard the haunting, wispy wail of the most lonesome desert wind in the solar system, and the pop-pop of the rover’s laser cutting into rock. Now, Perseverance has recorded the sound of itself four-wheeling (check that, six-wheeling) across the surface of the Red Planet.

If you’ve ever heard the scraping and banging of Jeeps on the Rubicon Trail, it’s a little something like that. Or like rocks in a washing machine. NASA describes the sounds as “bangs, pings and rattles.” And there’s grinding and crunching. Lots of crunching.

“A lot of people, when they see the images, don’t appreciate that the wheels are metal,” said Vandi Verma, one of the senior engineers who drive the rover at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “When you’re driving with these wheels on rocks, it’s actually very noisy.”

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“If I heard these sounds driving my car, I’d pull over and call for a tow,” said Dave Gruel, lead engineer for the entry, descent and landing (EDL) camera and microphone subsystem. “But if you take a minute to consider what you’re hearing and where it was recorded, it makes perfect sense.”

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Perseverance recorded 16 minutes of itself making a 90-foot drive on March 7. NASA released the full 16 minutes of audio if you’re a glutton for punishment, but this 85-second highlight clip is enough to get the point across:

Lest you worry that the sounds indicate a wheel bearing going out or something like that, keep in mind that Perseverance’s predecessor Curiosity has driven 15.45 miles so far on largely the same running gear.

Here are Perseverance’s previous recordings of the wind and laser sounds, in case you missed them:

For Percy’s next trick, NASA/JPL engineers expect to start testing the Mars Helicopter, maybe with a flight attempt in the first week of April.

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