The Song of Saturn

Just a quick one… This beautifully creepy sound is the sound of Saturn’s aurorae!

Saturn Song

The beautiful aurorae that sweep across our planet’s poles isn’t unique to Earth. Actually, any planet with a magnetic field will generate them. Charged particles stream from the Sun in all directions, screaming through the Solar system at hundreds of kilometres per second. When they run into a planet’s magnetic field, they get pulled in, spiralling down the planet’s magnetic field lines until they strike the atmosphere. As they do, they hit molecules in the atmosphere, slamming into them and transferring their energy. That energy is then released by the molecules as both light and, in the case of Saturn, radio waves.

The Cassini probe detected those radio emissions in Saturn’s atmosphere. When converted to sound, this is the song that Saturn sings. I’m sure I’m not the only one who thinks it sounds like something from Forbidden Planet!

(Or is it the sound of Saturn’s heartbeat…?)

This post may have been at least partly to show off my newfound ability to embed sound clips and check that they work ok…

About Invader Xan

Molecular astrophysicist, usually found writing frenziedly, staring at the sky, or drinking mojitos.
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4 Responses to The Song of Saturn

  1. 6_bleen_7 says:

    Cool—thanks!
    The spectrograph doesn’t show any obvious, sustained overtone series; however, it covers only about 1 1/2 octaves, and the recording sounds to me to have a broader range.

  2. invaderxan says:

    Actually, now’s as good an opportunity as any to check if these things are embeddable in comments too…
    http://assets.tumblr.com/swf/audio_player.swf?audio_file=http://www.tumblr.com/audio_file/16242858619/tumblr_ly5qcsOBaM1qa0fru&color=E4E4E4
    EDIT– Apparently not. Good to know.

  3. invaderxan says:

    Basically, the sound embedding uses Livejournal’s <lj-embed></lj-embed> tags. They’re intended for things like YouTube videos, but they can embed essentially any flash or iframe object. Which means you can also embed music clips from Soundcloud, or playlists from 8tracks. Just find the embed code and paste it between those two tags. Voila!
    In my case, the clip is hosted on my tumblr account (which I use as a kind of scrapbook for interesting stuff I find and might potentially want to regurgitate later on). The actual sound file is here, but digging the embed code for the player out of the page source wasn’t too difficult. Oh, and the caption is just because I put the whole lot in a HTML table.
    And as for the overtones, I genuinely don’t know, but that’s a very interesting thought. It might explain why it sounds so alien. I wonder if anyone’s even looked into it! I believe part of it is due to planetary atmospheres acting as dispersive media for radio waves at these kind of frequencies. If it’s any help, here’s a typical dynamic spectrum for the recorded emissions — but I’m not very familiar with reading these:

  4. 6_bleen_7 says:

    Amazing! How did you embed the sound clip?
    Do you know whether the creepiness is due to arithmetic overtones (e.g., 500 Hz + 600 Hz + 700 Hz + …) as opposed to the usual logarithmic overtones? My ear isn’t good enough to tell, but it’s something that might conceivably happen in this instance.

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