NASA's Cassini Captures Eerie Sounds During Its Saturn Mission
If you’re in need of some white noise and also want to feel like you’re stuck in a haunted wind tunnel, NASA’s got you covered. In 2017, the agency dropped the mixtape “Spooky Sounds from Across the Solar System,” which includes the hit tracks “Plasmaspheric Hiss” and “Jupiter Sounds 2001.” Now, NASA’s back with sounds collected during Cassini’s mission to Saturn. The eerie noises, representing the interaction of plasma waves moving between the gas giant and its moon Enceladus, sound uncannily like the Upside-Down in Stranger Things.
On Monday, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory explained how the researchers converted the moving plasma waves into a “whooshing” audio file, much in the same way a radio translates electromagnetic waves into music. Plasma waves are the periodic movements of interconnected sets of particles and fields through plasma, a super-hot gas that’s electrically charged. There’s a lot of plasma in Saturn’s magnetic field, where Enceladus lives.
In its final days, its Radio Plasma Wave Science instrument detected plasma-generated electromagnetic waves pulsating in an audio frequency range and recorded them. Although plasma waves often occur naturally at audio frequencies, a human in space wouldn’t be able to hear them because the pressure is too low.
Back on Earth, researchers were able to amplify and compress those signals, transforming them into the pleasantly unsettling audio below:
This recording led to the discovery that plasma waves travel from Saturn to its rings and to its moon Enceladus along connected magnetic field lines. This process, says NASA, is not unlike an electrical circuit moving between two bodies. Unlike Earth’s Moon, Enceladus is immersed in Saturn’s magnetic field and is a geologically active hotspot that spits out icy particles and plumes of vapor, which inevitably become a part of Saturn’s largest ring.
“Enceladus is this little generator going around Saturn, and we know it is a continuous source of energy,” said planetary scientist and NASA researcher Ali Sulaiman, Ph.D.. “Now we find that Saturn responds by launching signals in the form of plasma waves, through the circuit of magnetic field lines connecting it to Enceladus hundreds of thousands of miles away.”
Enceladus is a contender for one of the places we’re most likely to encounter life in space. During its mission, Cassini dived in as close as 15 miles from the moon’s surface — a plunge that revealed the moon’s global subsurface ocean. This ocean appears to be similar to Earth’s own deep-sea hydrothermal vents, which means it might contain the conditions suitable for life — even if that life is minuscule chemosynthetic microbes. They, however, are unlikely to send us any audio recordings, so if you want to know what Saturn sounds like, you’re going to have to be satisfied with this for a while.