NASA Probes Play the Music of Earth’s Magnetosphere

by Jason Major on September 18, 2012

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Launched on August 30, 2012, NASA’s twin Radiation Belt Storm Probe (RBSP) satellites have captured recordings of audible-range radio waves emitted by Earth’s magnetosphere. The stream of chirps and whistles heard in the video above consist of 5 separate occurrences captured on September 5 by RBSP’s Electric and Magnetic Field Instrument Suite and Integrated Science (EMFISIS) instrument.

The events are presented as a single continuous recording, assembled by the (EMFISIS) team at the University of Iowa and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

Called a “chorus”, this phenomenon has been known for quite some time.

“People have known about chorus for decades,” says EMFISIS principal investigator Craig Kletzing of the University of Iowa. “Radio receivers are used to pick it up, and it sounds a lot like birds chirping. It was often more easily picked up in the mornings, which along with the chirping sound is why it’s sometimes referred to as ‘dawn chorus.’”

The radio waves, which are at frequencies that are audible to the human ear, are emitted by energetic particles within Earth’s magnetosphere, which in turn affects (and is affected by) the radiation belts.

The RBSP mission placed a pair of identical satellites into eccentric orbits that will take them from as low as 375 miles (603 km) to as far out as 20,000 miles (32,186 km). During their orbits the satellites will pass through both the stable inner and more variable outer Van Allen belts, one trailing the other. Along the way they’ll investigate the many particles that make up the belts and identify what sort of activity occurs in isolated locations — as well as across larger areas.

Read: New Satellites Will Tighten Knowledge of Earth’s Radiation Belts

Audio Credit: University of Iowa. Visualisation Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center. (H/T to Peter Sinclair at climatecrocks.com.)

About 

A graphic designer in Rhode Island, Jason writes about space exploration on his blog Lights In The Dark, Discovery News, and, of course, here on Universe Today. Ad astra!

Peristroika September 18, 2012 at 3:16 PM

Now THOSE are cool space sounds! Although something tells me that no matter what frequency, radio waves will NEVER be audible to human hearing. Oh, other than me, I’ve got parabolics implanted straight into my brain!

Aqua4U September 18, 2012 at 4:47 PM

Actually hearing sounds from space puts a recognizable face and something tangible to grasp when thinking about the Earth’s interaction with the solar wind. MY mind keeps telling me that _this_ mission, like the SDO and the STEREO missions will ‘revolutionize’ heliophysics (It’s about time too!) and is well worth every penny!

(Nods begrudgingly to the ‘its all gravity’ crowd and those who neglect, deny or constantly underestimate the effects electro magnetic energy in our universe. Hi Torbjorn!)

tenstripe September 19, 2012 at 2:25 AM

Sounds like a pond in late summer.

Bob September 19, 2012 at 6:09 AM

Sounds more like whale songs

Rick Holcomb September 19, 2012 at 1:47 PM

I suppose this is a little off topic – but not really. This recording is crickets. There is no manipulation other than slowing the time scale. There are no humans on this recording even though it sounds like the Vienna choir. In four part harmony. It is just crickets.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hGpCtK1KHwI

Bibi September 21, 2012 at 11:40 AM

This is probably a stupid question – but I’m kinda confused how are the sounds picked up? Since these are radio waves as opposed to sound waves which don’t travel in space…

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