Listen to the sound Earth makes when its radiation belts sing

Contributed by
Dec 17, 2012

Unless you're a fan of Queen's soundtrack for the Flash Gordon movie (and really, who isn't?), you probably don't associate space with singing very much. But that's about to change. Thanks to NASA, we can now hear the music of the radio waves coming from Earth's radiation belts, and it's spectacular.

Back in August, NASA launched a pair of Radiation Belt Storm Probes into the Van Allen radiation belts surrounding Earth. Each probe carries a device called an Electric and Magnetic Field Instrument Suite and Integrated Science (EMFISIS) receiver, designed by University of Iowa physics professor Craig Kletzing and his team. The probes, and the receivers, are in the radiation belts to study the effect that highly energized "killer electrons" might have on satellites and astronauts traveling through the otherwise harmless radiation.

But there's something else out there worth checking out, and it's known as "chorus." Chorus is the term used to describe the audio version of radio signals emitted by plasma waves as they travel through the belts.

"This is what the radiation belts would sound like to a human being if we had radio antennas for ears," Kletzing said.

Radio operators have been able to hear low-quality versions of chorus for years, but this is the first time such high-powered instrumentation has captured the sound. Take a listen.

Weird, right? Like a combination of crickets and sonar. As spectacular as that is, though, it's actually only a mono recording from the testing phase of the probes. Kletzing said he hopes to get a stereo version of chorus after the probes complete their 60-day checkout phase in the coming weeks. It'll be like Pink Floyd in space.

(Talking Points Memo via Roger Ebert)