Sounds in space: what sounds do the planets make?

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In 2022, people on Earth were able to hear planetary sounds from Mars thanks to two microphones installed aboard NASA’s Perseverance rover. Audio clips of these sounds captured in space range from a gust of Martian wind to the snapping sound of the rover’s laser hitting a rock.

According to Nasathese sounds are slightly different from what you would hear on Earthbeing quieter and more muffled due to the lower density and different composition of the Martian atmosphere. Even so, anyone expecting the other planets to sound truly “alien” might be disappointed by the banality. The Perseverance Recordings ring.

But there are other possibilities. The planetary sounds we hear are wave-like vibrations of air molecules occurring in the frequency range to which our ears are sensitive, depending on the BBC .

However, it is possible to electronically process any other type of wave or oscillation, scaling it to audible frequencies and then converting it into a sound wave. This can be done with virtually any type of astronomical data, often with scary results. The process of transforming non-acoustic data into audible sounds – called sonification – can have benefits for astronomers involved in data analysis, depending on American scientist.

One of the best-known examples came from the European Space Agency (ESA) Rosette comet mission 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. This particular sonification, released at the November 2014 encounter, was based on low-frequency oscillations in the cometwhich were then multiplied by a factor of 10,000 to make them audible, according to ESA .

Called “The Singing Comet” and heard over 5 million times, it was one of the first pure audio clips to go viral when it was posted on SoundCloud, according to National Public Radio.

stardust probe

Artist’s impression of the Stardust spacecraft, which recorded the sounds of dust impacts from a comet. (Image credit: NASA)

Another promising source of spatial “sound” is radio astronomy. One of the first uses of radio here on Earth was for sound broadcasting, and just as an audio signal can be carried by a radio waveso radio telescope data can be transformed into audible sounds. One of the pioneers of “acoustic astronomy” was Fiorella Terenzi, who first used it as an aid to data analysis and later as a form of popular science.

According to Popular mechanics Terenzi started converting radio waves remotely galaxies in audio form when she was a student in 1987. Now a professor at Florida International University, Terenzi has applied similar techniques to other astronomical data, including radio emissions from planets Jupiter and Saturn and the Earth’s own magnetosphere. A selection of audio clips can be listened to on his website .

While ground-based radio telescopes listen for signals from great distances, sensors on interplanetary spacecraft can “hear” radio waves – and other types of signals – in situ. Here we take a brief look at some of the otherworldly sounds that have been recorded.

Earth’s magnetosphere sounds

Sounds of Jupiter and Saturn

When NASA Juno spacecraft crossed the boundary between interplanetary space and Jupiter’s magnetosphere in 2016, there was an abrupt change in the electric field measurements it recorded, according to Nasa. In a NASA YouTube video Jet Propulsion Laboratorythese measurements were converted into sound waves, which brought out the dramatic nature of the change much more clearly than a conventional graphic representation.

More than a decade earlier, NASA released another striking sound clipin this case carried out by the cassini probe to Saturn. This eerie record, displaying an astonishing range of frequency and time variations, is derived from the planet’s radio broadcasts. These are closely related to Saturn’s Aurorawhich, like Earth, occur around the planet’s poles.

Landers with microphones

When NASA Rover of Perseverance picked up the sounds of mars in February 2021, it was the first to do so – but only narrowly. Soon after, China released audio recordings made by its own Martian roverZhurong, Space.com reported at the time. We now have a good idea of ​​what red planet sounds like – but what about other places that have atmospheres thick enough to carry sound waves?

That of the Soviet Union Venera 13, which landed on Venus in March 1982, was the first spacecraft to record sounds on another planet. These include both the Venusian wind and the sound of the probe itself hitting the ground. Later, the European Space Agency Huygens Lander carried a microphone during its descent through the atmosphere of Saturn’s moon Titan.

aurora of saturn

Saturn’s auroras are the source of intense radio emissions, which have been converted into sound. (Image credit: ESA)

Sound of an encounter with a comet

The electromagnetic sounds recorded by Rosette during its cometary encounter required considerable processing to make them audible to human ears. But when an earlier probe, NASA Stardustflew by comet Tempel 1 in 2011, he “heard” something much closer to real sounds.

While sound waves cannot travel through space, specks of dust and more debris the comet’s breakup could be heard as it hit the probe’s protective shield. According to Nasaaround 5,000 impacts were detected over an 11-minute period as the spacecraft was bombarded by fragments of dust and ice.

Additional Resources

You can listen to a selection of sounds recorded in space, including the song of the sun and Cassini-Huygens passing through Saturn’s rings, at ESA website. Discover how musician Mickey Hart produced music using the frequencies of space in this Smithsonian article.

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