Thanks to some recent recordings courtesy of NASA, we now know that space is actually a musically rich environment, and not the frozen abyss where no one can hear you scream. Saturn’s song is vast and brooding, Neptune has a slightly country twang, and Uranus — wait for it — is a lithe and gorgeous ballad. But what sound does a comet make? How about one of the most awe-inspiring little ditties of the entire year?
As ABC Science reports, the European Space Agency launched a satellite called Rosetta back in 2004 in order to study “the processes which led to the formation of not only comets, but also the planets, our Sun, and the rest of the Solar System.” The satellite recently reached one of its targets, a little rock called Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, where it deployed a relay of instruments to study the layer of plasma surrounding the object. (Plasma is charged gas, and studying it helps researchers understand the comet’s structure and how it moves through space.)
During a series of tests, ESA scientists tuned their instrument to between 40 and 50 millihertz, and it’s there that the comet actually began to “sing.” It’s not exactly humming show tunes, though; the noise may be the result of oscillations created by the “the ionisation of neutral particles from the comet’s jets. They collide with high-energy particles from interplanetary space and become ionised. Because it is electrically charged, the plasma then interacts with the cometary magnetic field, causing oscillations.” See, magnets are miracles.
Regardless of what’s making the noise, it’s nonetheless beautiful. (It’s worth noting that the sound’s frequency has been increased 10,000 times so it’s audible to the human ear.) Somewhere between the ambiance of Sigur Rós and the absurdity of a Björk rests this “song,” a folk ballad as if sung by the Predator or some kind of punk rock spin on Tuvan throat singing. To the common man, it may just be weird clicks and buzzes. I say to think about it like this: The Universe is literally singing you a song, and you get to hear it in your mom’s basement as you eat pizza rolls.
“This is exciting because it is completely new to us,” said Karl-Heinz Glaßmeier, head of Space Physics and Space Sensorics at Germany’s Technische Universität Braunschweig. “We did not expect this and we are still working to understand the physics of what is happening.”
Rosetta’s next step is to deploy its robotic lander, Philae, to collect various samples. With any luck, they’ll find gold or chocolate on this miraculous lil’ comet.