Think those tools aboard NASA's rover Curiosity are only good for sniffing out argon isotopes and drilling into mysterious rocks? Wait till you hear this: A 'Happy Birthday' song played by Curiosity's very own Sample Analysis at Mars instrument, marking the robot geologist's first anniversary on the Red Planet.
In Washington on Tuesday, NASA officials, along with astronauts aboard the International Space Station, celebrated the first year since Curiosity's landing in Gale Crater. But engineers at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland also wanted to celebrate the rover's successful landing, and they realized they could do so with some help from Curiosity's tool belt.
The Sample Analysis at Mars instrument, or SAM, isn't a musical instrument. It doesn't have keys or strings. It's part of the lab in the rover's belly that analyzes rock samples and helped discover a habitable environment on Mars -- a place where microbes could have hypothetically lived in the past.
But SAM does make noise. In order to shake powdery rock samples so that they settle down, the instrument vibrates at various frequencies, Florence Tan, SAM's lead electrical engineer, said in a video.
These frequencies can be used as musical notes. And by making SAM shake faster and slower, the team was able to tap out a little birthday tune for the rover on Monday. (They went with Aug. 5 because Curiosity landed around 10:30 p.m. Pacific time on that date.)
"If there's anyone listening on Mars, on this special occasion, you will hear this," Tan said.