istock
istock

This Is What Space Sounds Like

istock
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?

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
NASA Has a Plan to Stop the Next Asteroid That Threatens Life on Earth
iStock
iStock

An asteroid colliding catastrophically with Earth within your lifetime is unlikely, but not out of the question. According to NASA, objects large enough to threaten civilization hit the planet once every few million years or so. Fortunately, NASA has a plan for dealing with the next big one when it does arrive, Forbes reports.

According to the National Near-Earth Object Preparedness Strategy and Action Plan [PDF] released by the White House on June 21, there are a few ways to handle an asteroid. The first is using a gravity tractor to pull it from its collision course. It may sound like something out of science fiction, but a gravity tractor would simply be a large spacecraft flying beside the asteroid and using its gravitational pull to nudge it one way or the other.

Another option would be to fly the spacecraft straight into the asteroid: The impact would hopefully be enough to alter the object's speed and trajectory. And if the asteroid is too massive to be stopped by a spacecraft, the final option is to go nuclear. A vehicle carrying a nuclear device would be launched at the space rock with the goal of either sending it in a different direction or breaking it up into smaller pieces.

Around 2021, NASA will test its plan to deflect an asteroid using a spacecraft, but even the most foolproof defense strategy will be worthless if we don’t see the asteroid coming. For that reason, the U.S. government will also be working on improving Near-Earth Object (NEO) detection, the technology NASA uses to track asteroids. About 1500 NEOs are already detected each year, and thankfully, most of them go completely unnoticed by the public.

[h/t Forbes]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Frederick M. Brown, Getty Images
Stephen Hawking’s Memorial Will Beam His Words Toward the Nearest Black Hole
Frederick M. Brown, Getty Images
Frederick M. Brown, Getty Images

An upcoming memorial for Stephen Hawking is going to be out of this world. The late physicist’s words, set to music, will be broadcast by satellite toward the nearest black hole during a June 15 service in the UK, the BBC reports.

During his lifetime, Hawking signed up to travel to space on Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic spaceship, but he died before he ever got the chance. (He passed away in March.) Hawking’s daughter Lucy told the BBC that the memorial's musical tribute is a “beautiful and symbolic gesture that creates a link between our father's presence on this planet, his wish to go into space, and his explorations of the universe in his mind.” She described it as "a message of peace and hope, about unity and the need for us to live together in harmony on this planet."

Titled “The Stephen Hawking Tribute,” the music was written by Greek composer Vangelis, who created the scores for Blade Runner and Chariots of Fire. It will play while Hawking’s ashes are interred at Westminster Abbey, near where Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin are buried, according to Cambridge News. After the service, the piece will be beamed into space from the European Space Agency’s Cebreros Station in Spain. The target is a black hole called 1A 0620-00, “which lives in a binary system with a fairly ordinary orange dwarf star,” according to Lucy Hawking.

Hawking wasn't the first person to predict the existence of black holes (Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity accounted for them back in the early 1900s), but he spoke at length about them throughout his career and devised mathematical theorems that gave credence to their existence in the universe.

Actor Benedict Cumberbatch, a friend of the Hawking family who portrayed the late scientist in the BBC film Hawking, will speak at the service. In addition to Hawking's close friends and family, British astronaut Tim Peake and several local students with disabilities have also been invited to attend.

[h/t BBC]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios