NASA can hear the 'haunting' sound of dust devils tearing across Mars with its new $830 million lander

Mars has air about 1% as thick as Earth's. That's so feeble, you might not hear someone talking to you from a few feet away.
Nevertheless, wind and tornado-like dust devils do blow across the Martian surface, and recording the sounds of these phenomena is essential to the success of NASA's newest mission at the red planet.
NASA landed its InSight spacecraft on a flat Martian plain on November 26. The probe is surveying its landing site with a robotic arm and a suite of instruments to help managers of the $830 million robot plan their next moves.
insight mars lander photo surface photo image 1_pia22736
A view from NASA's InSight lander on the surface of Mars.
NASA/JPL-Caltech
One of the lander's biggest goals is to listen for seismic rumbles called "Mars quakes." But NASA researchers said Friday during a press briefing that InSight's vibration-sensing seismometer tool is so sensitive that winds can affect its readings. That can happen if wind blows against the instrument itself or if it causes the lander's solar panels to move ever-so-slightly.
InSight's robotic arm will eventually place the seismometer — a dome-shaped instrument called SEIS— onto the Martian surface. But right now, it's still on top of the car-sized spacecraft's upper deck.
"It's a little like a flag waving in the wind," Thomas Pike, the lead scientist behind the SEIS instrument and an engineer at Imperial College London, said during the briefing.
NASA converted the SEIS readings into audio, which a press release described as "a haunting low rumble" caused by 10-15 mph Martian breezes. An air pressure sensor on the spacecraft's deck also recorded the sounds of blowing winds on Mars.
Though the air pressure sensor's raw data is inaudible, it can be heard if sped up about 100 times.
"Listening to the sound from the pressure sensor reminds me of sitting outside on a windy summer afternoon," Don Banfield, a planetary scientist and InSight team member at Cornell University, said during the briefing. "In some sense, this is what it'd sound like if you were sitting on the InSight lander on Mars."
You can hear the original rumbling sounds in the video below. If you don't have a subwoofer or high-fidelity headphones, NASA also created a higher-pitch version.
Pike said images of Mars remind him of deserts on Earth, but hearing Mars is wholly different.
"Our ear is just not attuned to recognizing what we are listening to," Pike said during the briefing. "It really sounds otherworldly."
More importantly, though, Pike said InSight scientists need to record as many of these sounds as possible, so they can cancel them out and ensure the future success of the mission.
"At the moment, there could be a Mars quake happening on the other side of the planet, and we would not hear it above the chatter of the wind," he said. "So we really want to be able to hear the inside of Mars above that chatter."
Collecting good data about Mars' ground vibrations could allow scientists to figure out the internal structure of Mars. That information, by extension, would give them clues about how the world turned into a desert planet instead of a fecund blue-green marble like Earth.