NASA captures the Earth's 'song'

NASA has made it possible to sample our planet's chorus while potentially safeguarding costly spacecraft from being damaged by "killer" radiation.
Written by David Worthington, Contributor

You’d hear the Earth’s 'song' if you had a radio receiver implanted in your brain. Thankfully, NASA has made it possible to sample our planet’s chorus without having to take such a drastic step, potentially safeguarding costly spacecraft from being damaged by "killer" radiation.

NASA on Friday announced that its twin Radiation Belt Storm Probes had beamed back sounds of the electromagnetic plasma waves that reside within the Van Allen belt – layers of charged atomic particles that surround the Earth. Those waves produce what NASA is calling the “Earthsong,” or "chorus."

A team at the University of Iowa built the Electric and Magnetic Field Instrument Suite and Integrated Science (EMFISIS) receiver used to record the signals, NASA says.

The probes were launched late last month to study the belt, which is not fully understood in spite of decades of space travel. The belt generates oscillating radio waves that can be picked up by EMFISIS equipment. Ham radio operators can hear the chorus, but not as crisply as the CD quality sound that NASA is now providing.

This research is not just being done for our listening pleasure – more than a few spacecraft have failed due to a phenomenon called “killer electrons.” Killer electron particles are found in the belt, and are thought to become dangerous to people and equipment after encountering a chorus wave.

The probes will map out how broad the region is over the next two years, and further NASA’s understanding of why unpredictable “killers” can occur. Click on this video to learn more:

Astronaut Charles Walker described how he felt “strangely unfulfilled” after viewing the Earth from space. “Here was a tremendous visual spectacle, but viewed in silence. There was no grand musical accompaniment; no triumphant, inspired sonata or symphony,” he said. But in a way, the Earth is really making quite a racket.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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