Earth’s Van Allen Belt Song: coming soon in stereo!
NASA just keeps coming up with new wonders! This week, they’ve released the first recordings from twin spacecraft that are settling into their 2-year mission to learn more about the Van Allen Radiation Belts, concentrations of high-energy particles held in place by Earth’s magnetic fields. The audio released this week is just a taste of what’s to come; the Radiation Storm Belt Probes are just in their initial 60-day testing phase. Researchers are excited at the audio quality they’re getting, and hope to use the two spacecraft to generate stereo recordings in the months to come.
The current recording is brief, and researchers stress that they are not recording audio in space; these are radio waves, with oscillations at acoustic frequencies of up to 10kHz (humans can hear from about 20Hz to 20kHz). The Van Allen Radiation Belts are often energized by solar storms, spurring dangerous concentrations of high-energy radiation, including “killer electrons,” which can disrupt satellites; the radio waves being studies here are thought to be one of the key energy sources that create these perilous zones. Meanwhile, though, the sounds offer a tantalizing audio glimpse of the dynamic, energetic sheath of electromagnetism that forever pulses around our seemingly-solid planetary home.