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The sounds of a Martian sunrise inspire short musical composition

Scientists turned Opportunity’s image of the 5000th sunrise on Mars into music

This is what a sunrise on Mars sounds like, according to a computer algorithm

Scientists know a lot about Mars, at least when it comes to what it looks like. Sound, on the other hand, is a lot more challenging, and it’s not like we have high-powered microphones listening to the wind sweep across the Martian plains.

Now, researchers from Anglia Ruskin University and the University of Exeter have created an interesting piece of music that wasn’t just inspired by Mars, but was actually composed by a computer algorithm using a Mars sunrise as data. The result is a surprisingly pleasing piece of music, and you can listen to it yourself.

The piece is only a couple of minutes long, so go ahead and give it a listen:

Pretty neat, huh? But how exactly was it created? Anglia Ruskin University describes its creation as follows:

Researchers created the piece of music by scanning a picture from left to right, pixel by pixel, and looking at brightness and colour information and combining them with terrain elevation. They used algorithms to assign each element a specific pitch and melody.

As you might assume, the quieter notes and flowing background sounds come from the dark area surrounding the Sun in the image. Higher pitched notes are brighter pixels near the bright orb in the center.

“We are absolutely thrilled about presenting this work about such a fascinating planet,” Dr. Domenico Vicinanza, one of the scientists involved in the project, said in a statement. “Image sonification is a really flexible technique to explore science and it can be used in several domains, from studying certain characteristics of planet surfaces and atmospheres, to analysing weather changes or detecting volcanic eruptions.”

The piece will actually be “performed,” so to speak, at the SC18 supercomputing conference in Dallas on November 13th. Audience members will hear the song through traditional speakers as well as “vibrational transducers” that will let them feel it. Pretty neat.

NASA’s InSight landing site is flat, boring, and totally perfect

When you’re sending a piece of high-tech hardware to another planet it might make sense to shoot for a location that is strange or interesting in some way. There’s lots of places on Mars that scientists would love to see up close, but NASA’s InSight lander isn’t headed to any of them. Instead, it’s going to touch down on a flat, barren area with virtually no landmarks in sight. Believe it or not, that’s exactly what NASA was looking for.

In a new post, NASA explains why it chose such a seemingly unremarkable piece of Martian real estate to touch down on, and it all centers around the InSight robot’s capabilities.

InSight should, when it lands later this month and deploys its various instruments, be able to tell scientists a lot about Mars, but that information will have very little to do with what’s above the surface. InSight, as its name suggests, will be peering deep into Mars with electronic ears, painting a picture of the inner workings of the planet that are largely still a mystery.

Because of that, aiming for a landing site that is interesting on the surface is of little interest to the InSight team, and so they’ve pointed their lander at a nice, flat area with virtually nothing going on up top.

“Previous missions to the Red Planet have investigated its surface by studying its canyons, volcanoes, rocks and soil,” Bruce Banerdt, principal investigator on the InSight mission, said in a statement. “But the signatures of the planet’s formation processes can be found only by sensing and studying evidence buried far below the surface. It is InSight’s job to study the deep interior of Mars, taking the planet’s vital signs – its pulse, temperature and reflexes.”

It’s an important mission, even if it’s not going to return a whole lot of eye candy, and NASA is just fine with that. As for the landing site, Banerdt describes it as so: “If it were an ice cream, it would be vanilla.” Hey, who doesn’t like vanilla ice cream?

SpaceX’s Starman, still seated in his Tesla Roadster, just passed Mars

Time flies when you’re cruising through space in a Tesla Roadster, huh? It’s hard to believe that it’s already been nearly nine months since SpaceX launched its Falcon Heavy rocket, sending a test payload into Sun-centric orbit, but here we are. Now, the only passenger that took part in the adventure officially made his way past Mars, marking yet another milestone for the private spaceflight leader.

Over the weekend, SpaceX revealed that Starman has made it past Mars’ orbit, which was one of the loftier goals for the test launch. The Tesla Roadster and its “driver” are still speeding through space, though it won’t go much farther before looping back around towards the Sun again and repeating its trip for, well, we don’t actually know how long.

The launch of the Falcon Heavy was a truly monumental event, especially considering the company and founder Elon Musk weren’t even sure if the vehicle was going to make it all the way into space. Musk in particular was careful to temper expectations, noting that as long as it didn’t blow up on the launch pad it would be considered a success.

Of course, things clearly went far better than Musk had publicly feared, and the launch seemed to go off without a hitch. The Tesla and its Starman passenger were revealed on the live video feed as the exterior shell of the payload bay opened up. It was all very cool to watch, and it’s been a big feather in SpaceX’s cap ever since.

SpaceX has since moved on from the Falcon Heavy, at least publicity wise. These days all eyes are on the company’s BFR, which stands for “Big Falcon Rocket” (or maybe “Big F*cking Rocket,” if you prefer Musk’s tale of how he came up with the name). The BFR is SpaceX’s darling that it says will help push mankind to new scientific milestones, such as trips to Mars.

NASA refuses to give up on silent Opportunity rover

NASA’s Mars Opportunity rover isn’t doing much of anything right now, and that’s how it’s been for a number of months now. The rover was swallowed up by the planet-wide dust storm that engulfed Mars way back in June, and it was forced to enter a standby mode after its solar power was cut off by the huge clouds of dust.

The rover might truly be lost forever, and NASA has already explained all the things that could go wrong while the rover sits silently on the Martian surface. From busted batteries to wonky clock glitches, it’s unclear if the rover will ever wake back up, but NASA’s latest blog update promises that it’s not giving up on the aging robot just yet.

The Opportunity team has been listening closely for signs that the rover is coming back online now that the skies above it have cleared. Thus far it’s been nothing but silence, but that could change in the near future, or at least that’s what NASA engineers are hoping for.

“After a review of the progress of the listening campaign, NASA will continue its current strategy for attempting to make contact with the Opportunity rover for the foreseeable future,” NASA says. “Winds could increase in the next few months at Opportunity’s location on Mars, resulting in dust being blown off the rover’s solar panels. The agency will reassess the situation in the January 2019 time frame.”

The worry here is that the rover isn’t waking back up because the robot’s solar panels are still caked in dust. If that’s the case, the upcoming windy season on Mars could solve the problem, but we won’t know for sure unless Opportunity actually manages to wake back up.

A secondary, but still very serious, concern is that the extended downtime has permanently damaged the robot’s batteries. Opportunity was originally only designed to last a few months, but has since put in nearly a decade and a half of work on the Red Planet. Its batteries are definitely feeling the strain of old age, and a long, cold pause might have been enough to essentially kill them.

For now, all we can do is wait and wonder whether Opportunity will ever be revived. Keep your fingers crossed.