the in sound from way out


Researchers at Queen Mary University in London are inviting filmmakers and creatives to experiment with sounds from space, as part of a new competition launched today. To find out more about these cosmic noises, we caught up with project lead Dr Martin Archer...

How – and why – were these sounds recorded?
These particular sounds were recorded using the instruments on American weather satellites, which also monitor the space environment around the Earth to observe any phenomena which might affect our satellites and technology. They’re also a great data source for science investigations as to how the complex physics of space operates. we actually used magnetic field measurements since directly measuring these sounds through particles is often pretty tricky.

Where do these sounds come from? Do we even know?
These sounds come from a variety of sources that we know about. For example the varying solar wind can either directly oscillate Earth’s magnetosphere or – like plucking a guitar string – trigger a set of notes, the natural frequencies of the space around us. Under certain conditions fundamental plasma processes can inject huge amounts of energy within our magnetic bubble, sending these waves out carrying that energy (as well as other things like aurora). One of the main challenges to scientists like me is that it’s hard to say at any given time which sound was caused by what thing, even identifying a particular “type” of sound can sometimes be tricky.

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How important is it to understand this phenomenon?
These sounds play a key role in transporting energy around near-Earth space. One important way is through their interaction with the radiation belts: ring-donut shaped regions of trapped high energy charged particles. The electromagnetic fields associated with the sounds can accelerate these particles up to really high (ultrarelativistic) energies and potentially create what are called “killer electrons” – electrons with so much energy that they can kill satellites when they hit them. Being able to predict when this will happen is clearly important and the more we understand the better we can be at forecasting these things.

What are you hoping creative people will do with the recordings?
I’m hoping filmmakers can recognise the zoo of different sounds that’s occurring in the space directly above us all the time. Not only could that potentially help us with research, because the human auditory system is arguably better pattern recognition software than anything we could code, but we’re hoping it can open a dialogue with people who wouldn’t normally associate with science to get them at least interested in space and why it’s important we study it. I’m also just really looking forward to some cool short films that will surprise me!

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To hear the sounds and find out more, visit