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The wind on Mars

Last week toward the end of the nightly TV newscast, spliced in with reports of wildfires, the Mueller investigation and President George H.W. Bush’s funeral, there was a story of great optimism and progress. Easily overlooked in the chatter of the day, we heard a new sound. We heard the wind on Mars.

After setting down on the Martian landscape on November 26, NASA’s InSight Mars Lander sent back audio of the Martian wind. This is the  first time sound has been recorded on another planet.

 InSight sensors captured the evocative, low rumbling sound caused by the vibrations from the wind, estimated to be blowing between 10 to 15 mph from northwest to southwest. According to NASA, the sound, which was documented on December 1, is the result of vibrations bouncing off the lander’s 7-foot solar panels.

 NASA released the first sounds from Mars on December 7. The untouched audio is barely audible, but when sped up and pushed up two octaves, it can be heard on computers and smartphones.

“Capturing this audio was an unplanned treat,” said Bruce Banerdt, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, during a media teleconference December 7.

InSight (which stands for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport ) will explore the planet’s deep interior and investigate seismic activity. The lander will also deliver 3-D models of the planet’s interior and study internal heat flow.

According to NASA, the InSight lander was launched on May 5 of this year. It took seven months to travel the 300 million miles to the Red Planet. The mission will last about two Earth years.

 This is third attempt NASA has made to listen to Mars. An upcoming mission, the Mars 2020 rover, will bring two microphones on board for upgraded sound recording.

 To me, this is the most hopeful story of the year. We have come a long way from an age when humanity thought the wind was a bunch of spirits planning havoc on us all. In the Middle Ages, during the outbreak of the bubonic plague in Europe, people were told the south wind was dangerous and that they should only open north windows if they wanted to prevent getting sick. Yes, we have come a long way. Too far to go backwards. It is imperative that we continue our journey into new scientific frontiers, including space, and the pursuit of solutions to climate change.

 Best wishes for the holidays to all. May the winds of 2019 blow gentle and sweet for us all. Happy New Year.

 

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