Sunrise on Mars has a sound, and scientists have recorded it

Opportunity – 15 years alone. Picture: NASA/JPL

  • “Image sonification” helps scientists understand more about terrain, weather and health issues.
  • NASA explorer Opportunity is still silent after taking pic of its 5000th sunrise on Mars.
  • Researchers have now recreated that sunrise in sound using image sonification.

To celebrate the 5,000th sunrise captured by NASA’s explorer Opportunity, researchers at Anglia Ruskin University and the University of Exeter have reproduced it in sound.

Dr Domenico Vicinanza and Dr Genevieve Williams scanned a picture of a sunrise on Mars taken by Opportunity from left to right, pixel by pixel.

They took all the information about brightness and colour and combined it with terrain elevation. They then used algorithms to assign each element a specific pitch and melody.

It’s not a gimmick. It’s called “image sonification” and scientists use it in many fields to get a different perspective.

Dr Vicinanza, Director of the Sound and Game Engineering (SAGE) research group at Anglia Ruskin, called it a “really flexible technique”.

He said image sonification can be used to study planet surfaces and atmospheres, analyse weather changes or detect volcanic eruptions.

“In health science, it can provide scientists with new methods to analyse the occurrence of certain shapes and colours, which is particularly useful in image diagnostics,” he said.

On Mars, it can be used to record what a Red Planet sunrise sounds like. This is best heard with your headphones on and eyes closed:

The dark background produces the quiet, slow harmonies, while the brighter, higher pitched sounds are created by the sonification of the bright sun disk. It’s all based on picture in the video, taken by Opportunity.

The piece, “Mars Soundscapes”, will make it world premiere in the NASA booth at the Supercomputing SC18 Conference in Dallas, which starts tomorrow.

If you’re there, you can also “feel” the sunrise through your hands with the aid of vibrational transducers.

Hopefully, “Mars Soundscapes” isn’t Opportunity’s swansong. The rover is still silent after being swallowed by a giant dust storm that hit the Red Planet around the end of May.

NASA still has hopes its 15-year-old rover will wake up.