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This Is What Space Sounds Like

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istock

While it may be true that in space no one can hear you scream, that doesn’t necessarily mean the universe is completely silent. Recordings released by NASA in the early '90s show just how noisy space can be if you know how to listen.

In 1977, NASA launched Voyagers 1 and 2 into the vacuum of space in hopes of studying the outer planets of our solar system. Traveling at about 30,000 miles per hour, these probes have traversed billions of miles since their launch, all while sending home vast amounts of information and images of some of our more distant neighbors, including Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, and Uranus. On August 25, 2012, Voyager 1 became the first human-made object to leave our solar system, and it still manages to send back vital information in messages that take over 17 hours to reach Earth.

Voyager 1 may have to wait about another 40,000 years to approach another star, but that may be a relief to the probe, because our neighbors never shut up. There may be no mechanical noise—sound that requires a medium such as a solid, liquid, or gas to resonate through—in space, but electromagnetic waves have no problem traveling through a vacuum. As they passed by the outer planets, Voyagers 1 and 2 recorded this wave data as solar wind clashed with the planets’ magnetospheres. The probes also managed to listen in on atmospheric radio waves, charged particle interactions, and even some particle emissions from places like Saturn’s rings, then relay all of this data back home.

Electromagnetic waves can’t be heard in their raw form, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be converted into something audible. Just as radio waves can be translated into the sound of morning FM talk show hosts, the Voyager data streams can be converted into audio, thereby letting humans listen in on interplanetary conversations. And, as it turns out, these conversations are riveting. 

In 1992, NASA released a series of these recordings entitled Symphonies of the Planets. The tracks are beautifully haunting in a way that rivals anything experimental electronic artists make. The collection’s echoing siren sounds manage to give the listener a sense of just how vast and complex our universe is, as well as how amazing an achievement the Voyagers are. Unfortunately, due to some cosmic injustice, the albums are no longer in print, but just like the electromagnetic waves, there are ways to still listen to them. Copies now exist on YouTube and streaming services like Spotify. Go ahead and give them a listen, and try not to get misty-eyed while hearing what the Voyagers heard as they hurtled onward into a vast, quiet universe. Well, relatively quiet.

See also: What Does Space Smell Like?

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Ethan Miller/Getty Images
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Space
Look Up! The Orionid Meteor Shower Peaks This Weekend
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Ethan Miller/Getty Images

October is always a great month for skywatching. If you missed the Draconids, the first meteor shower of the month, don't despair: the Orionids peak this weekend. It should be an especially stunning show this year, as the Moon will offer virtually no interference. If you've ever wanted to get into skywatching, this is your chance.

The Orionids is the second of two meteor showers caused by the debris field left by the comet Halley. (The other is the Eta Aquarids, which appear in May.) The showers are named for the constellation Orion, from which they seem to originate.

All the stars are lining up (so to speak) for this show. First, it's on the weekend, which means you can stay up late without feeling the burn at work the next day. Tonight, October 20, you'll be able to spot many meteors, and the shower peaks just after midnight tomorrow, October 21, leading into Sunday morning. Make a late-night picnic of the occasion, because it takes about an hour for your eyes to adjust to the darkness. Bring a blanket and a bottle of wine, lay out and take in the open skies, and let nature do the rest.

Second, the Moon, which was new only yesterday, is but a sliver in the evening sky, lacking the wattage to wash out the sky or conceal the faintest of meteors. If your skies are clear and light pollution low, this year you should be able to catch about 20 meteors an hour, which isn't a bad way to spend a date night.

If clouds interfere with your Orionids experience, don't fret. There will be two more meteor showers in November and the greatest of them all in December: the Geminids.

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Land Cover CCI, ESA
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Afternoon Map
European Space Agency Releases First High-Res Land Cover Map of Africa
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Land Cover CCI, ESA

This isn’t just any image of Africa. It represents the first of its kind: a high-resolution map of the different types of land cover that are found on the continent, released by The European Space Agency, as Travel + Leisure reports.

Land cover maps depict the different physical materials that cover the Earth, whether that material is vegetation, wetlands, concrete, or sand. They can be used to track the growth of cities, assess flooding, keep tabs on environmental issues like deforestation or desertification, and more.

The newly released land cover map of Africa shows the continent at an extremely detailed resolution. Each pixel represents just 65.6 feet (20 meters) on the ground. It’s designed to help researchers model the extent of climate change across Africa, study biodiversity and natural resources, and see how land use is changing, among other applications.

Developed as part of the Climate Change Initiative (CCI) Land Cover project, the space agency gathered a full year’s worth of data from its Sentinel-2A satellite to create the map. In total, the image is made from 90 terabytes of data—180,000 images—taken between December 2015 and December 2016.

The map is so large and detailed that the space agency created its own online viewer for it. You can dive further into the image here.

And keep watch: A better map might be close at hand. In March, the ESA launched the Sentinal-2B satellite, which it says will make a global map at a 32.8 feet-per-pixel (10 meters) resolution possible.

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

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