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J.-P. Williams (University of California, Los Angeles)
With the advent of the first attempt to deliver an acoustic microphone to the Martian surface aboard the failed Mars Polar Lander, there has been growing interests in the development of acoustic sensors to compliment scientific payloads on future spacecraft. Terrestrial scientist have been very successful in using infrasound (sound at frequencies below human detection, < 20 Hz) to detect and monitor atmospheric phenomena related to weather, tornadoes, mountain waves, microbaroms, ionospheric and auroral disturbances, and meteror/fireballs, as well as anthropogenic sources such as aircraft and nuclear explosions.
Sounds on Mars at the audible frequencies (20 Hz to 20 kHz) will be severely attenuated due to viscous relaxation and thermal diffusion (collectively referred to as classical attenuation) which will be much more severe in the colder, less dense Martian atmosphere. Molecular relaxation of carbon dioxide will also contribute to the sound absorption in the lower audible frequencies.
Since classical attenuation increases as a function of the frequency squared, at low infrasonic frequencies ( < 10 Hz), classical attenuation becomes less significant and sound absorption in the Martian atmosphere becomes more similar to that of the terrestrial atmosphere for the same frequencies. At these longer wavelengths, geometric spreading will dominate as the source of attenuation as the acoustic energy is spread out over an ever increasing spherical wave front. This implies that infrasound (10 to 0.01 Hz) will be a useful frequency range for future acoustic sensors developed for scientific payloads delivered to the Martian surface.
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