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Excellent Idea of the Day: Mars Landing in Sound

/ Source: Discovery Channel

A picture may be worth 1,000 words, particularly when the camera is on Mars, but that wasn’t enough for a group of engineers overseeing the arrival of NASA’s new Mars rover Curiosity.

Using radio signals from Curiosity recorded by Europe’s Mars Express spacecraft, engineers put together an audio reproduction that shifts the rover’s sounds into frequencies humans can hear.

The recording, which compresses about 20 minutes of the rover’s chatter into 19 seconds, is a “faithful reproduction of the ‘sound’ of the NASA mission’s arrival at Mars and its seven-minute plunge to the Red Planet’s surface,” the European Space Agency wrote in a blog post.

Mars Express was one of a trio of spacecraft orbiting Mars that monitored Curiosity’s harrowing descent and landing inside an ancient impact basin near the planet’s equator on Aug. 6.

Spacecraft operators at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., were able to monitor Curiosity’s progress real-time (or what passes for real-time considering it took 14 minutes for  radio signals, moving at the speed of light, to travel the 154 million miles from Mars to Earth) with NASA’s Mars Odyssey spacecraft. 

The other two satellites, Mars Express and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, recorded the action for later playback.

The audio starts off with what sounds like a small sports car revving its motor,  then shifts to electronic twanging reminiscent of Atari video games of the 1980s.

Mars Express picked up signals from the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity about 10 minutes before the nuclear-powered, one-ton probe slammed into the planet’s atmosphere at about 1:25 a.m. EDT on Aug. 6. 

“We tracked (Curiosity) for about 28 minutes then lost contact as expected just a few moments before touchdown in Gale Crater,” Mars Express operations manager Michel Denis said in a statement.

For the multi-media crowd, check out this video from Brian Lynch which combines small images from Curiosity’s descent camera with audio from Mission Control and a timeline put together by Patrick Blau at (Kudos to Emily Lakdawalla at The Planetary Society and Bill Harwood at CBS News for the find.)


Image: Curiosity's partial view of itself inside Gale Crater. The lighter colored band across the horizon is the crater's rim. Credit:  NASA/JPL-Caltech