Recently released recordings of the galaxy just outside Earth’s atmosphere reveal a supernatural chorus of whirs and whoops and echoed shrills created by a violent world of supercharged particles.
“If you had radio ears…you would hear these waves in space,” Craig Kletzing, a physics professor at the University of Iowa, told the Washington Post. He said his wife thinks one of the clips sounds like “alien birds.”
Space might be a vacuum, but it’s hardly empty or quiet. And Kletzing, in collaboration with NASA, has spent years studying the restless particles that zip and zoom around our planet.
Specifically, the sound clip is of the Van Allen belts, two belts of electric and magnetic fields that circle our planet. The belts are made up of energetic particles from the sun, which, if they weren’t trapped by Earth’s magnetic field, would penetrate the atmosphere and make life on Earth all but unlivable. And they actually do pose a threat to satellites and astronauts on the International Space Station.
In order to gain a better understanding of these intense particles NASA launched two spacecrafts – the Van Allen Space Probes – in 2012. Each probe has a set of instruments referred to as EMFISIS (Electric and Magnetic Field Instrument Suite and Integrated Science,) of which Kletzing is the lead investigator.
We can’t hear everything in the Van Allen belts since the spectrum of sound that the human ear can pick up on only reaches so far. But, luckily, some of what was detected in the belts is part of that spectrum, allowing scientists to turn the EMFISIS data from radio waves into MP3s.
“It’s literally like sticking a microphone out into space,” said Kletzing. “But instead of listening to sound waves we’re listening to electromagnetic waves.”