‘Sounds of Space’

'Sounds of Space'

Using a Very Low Frequency receiver at Halley Research Station we can pick up radio waves made by our planet. We use these waves to help us understand the science of space weather storms. We can also directly convert them into audible sounds and are exploiting these amazing natural ‘sounds of space’ in a number of collaborations. Scroll down to listen to the eerie noises of physics and find out more about the collaborations.

Our planet naturally produces a variety of radio emissions. These radio waves are generated by lightning activity or geomagnetic storms driven by the Sun, and are at the lower end of the radio spectrum, between 100 Hz and 10 kHz. They are best detected by large antennae, in space or on the ground. British Antarctic Survey detects these radio transmissions at its Antarctic Research Station, Halley, on the Brunt Ice Shelf, which lies beneath the Earth’s converging geomagnetic field lines.

Aurora over Halley Research Station in Antarctica. Photocredit: Antony Dubber

Sound waves are vibrations of air molecules, but these emissions – although they are within the frequency range of the human ear – are a form of electromagnetic radiation (oscillating electric and magnetic fields)  which cannot be heard directly. The recorded emissions can be directly converted to waveform audio files using suitable software. This is what enables us to hear the ‘sounds of space’.

Listen to some sounds made by our planet – Spherics, Whistlers and Chorus

Spherics: A ground-based Very Low Frequency receiver, such as the one at Halley, can detect signals from lightning activity. Each lightning flash emits a short radio pulse, known as a spheric, which covers a wide range of frequencies. These are heard as short cracks and appear as vertical lines in a spectrogram. Spherics may be detected from lightning that is up to 2000 km away.

 

Whistlers: Some of the radio waves from lightning strikes leave the atmosphere and leak into space, before being guided by the Earth’s magnetic field and received in the opposite hemisphere. Higher frequency waves travel faster than lower frequency waves, so whistlers have a characteristic descending tone.

 

Chorus: Unlike whistlers, chorus emissions are generated deep within the magnetosphere itself. Energetic electrons enter the magnetosphere during geomagnetic storms driven by the Sun, causing the Earth’s beautiful aurora and generating chorus emissions.

 

‘Sounds of Space’ Performance

Nigel Meredith has been working with artist-engineer Diana Scarborough to find novel ways of visualising space weather data. The ‘sounds of space’ formed the starting point of this exciting venture and inspired Diana to create soundscapes by combining the mesmerising sounds with original visual sequences. We have since engaged with leading Australian composer Kim Cunio and professional dancer Becky Byers to develop the works into a multidisciplinary show. Our first show, which included a scientific presentation, followed by a performance with animation, contemporary dance and soundscapes, was performed at the Cambridge Science Festival in March. Our second show, which included live music for the first time, was recently performed at the British Antarctic Survey Aurora Innovation Centre and also live-streamed.

Watch the ‘SOUNDS of SPACE’ Live broadcast (from Friday 16th November, 2-3pm):

Short Films at the Venice Biennale

Nine one-minute short films, based on the animations, music and ‘sounds’ from our show, are currently being shown as part of a film installation at the world famous Venice Biennale. The installation, being screened from 8th May to 4th June 2019 at the historic Palazzo Pesaro Papafava, is part of ‘Alive in the Universe’, an art-film project that explores our emotional explanation of the universe through arts and ideas.

‘Antarctic Ice’, one of our short art-films currently being screened at the Venice Biennale.

Space Acoustic Ecology

In a separate project we plan to release time lapse audio and full day recordings as the first part of a space acoustic ecology project. It is envisaged that this project will see the Halley Station become an artist with the Australian National University Music Press. As part of this venture Kim Cunio has combined his original piano music with a day of time lapse audio from Halley. The new work, entitled Aurora Musicalis, is the opportunity to experience these fascinating and mysterious natural sounds accompanied by the piano.

Excerpt from Aurora Musicalis:

‘Sounds of Space’ feature in space simulation game

The ‘sounds of space’ from Halley have been incorporated into the new exploration gameplay in Elite Dangerous: Beyond – Chapter 4. In this unique collaboration Nigel Meredith worked with Frontier Developments, the creators of Elite Dangerous, to incorporate the eerie sounds into the new gameplay. In any one of over 400 billion stellar systems, players can now use a new analysis mode to discover more about their surroundings. The new mode, called the Full Spectrum System Scanner, features the simulated sounds of radio emissions from exoplanets in remote stellar systems based on the Halley VLF recordings.

Elite Dangerous| Frontier Developments

Halley Research Station

The sample sounds on this page were produced from radio waves detected by the Halley VLF receiver at Halley VI, Antarctica. It is a good location to record the ‘sounds of space’ as it is magnetically connected to the outer radiation belt where Extremely Low and Very Low Frequency signals are generated, and is electromagnetically “quiet” as it lies far from man-made sources.

VLF Receiver, Halley, Antarctica

Halley Ringtones

Surprise your friends with an out-of-this-world ringtone. Choose from this selection of eerie ‘sounds’, in mp3 format, recorded by the Halley VLF receiver:

chorus

chorus and whistlers

chorus, hiss and whistlers

triggered emissions

Future Events

  • ‘Sounds of Space’, talk, Bluedot Festival, Jodrell Bank Observatory, Friday 19th July 2019
  • ‘Sounds of Space’, talk and performance, Cambridge Festival of Ideas, Storey’s Field Centre, Eddington, Cambridge, Friday 25th October 2019

Further Reading

1. Meredith, N. P., Turning the sounds of space into art, Astronomy and Geophysics, 60, 2, https://doi.org/10.1093/astrogeo/atz097, 2019.

2. Stone, M., Listen to the creepy noises picked up at a space weather station in Antarctica, Earther, 26 December 2018.

3. Hall, C., Elite’s new exploration system brings even more real-world science into the game, Polygon, 4 December 2018.

Further Listening

1. Listen to Nigel Meredith talking to BBC Earth’s Emily Knight about the ‘sounds of space’, BBC Earth Podcast “Looking Up”, 9 May, 2019. The ‘sounds of space’ are the second story in this episode and start around minute eight.

2. Listen to a larger selection of the Earth’s amazing natural radio emissions recorded by the Halley VLF Receiver, Elite:Dangerous Earthsounds, on SoundCloud, 26 December 2018.

 

 

 


Halley VLF receiver

The Halley VLF receiver listens to very-low frequency radio waves as part of a network of receivers located all over the polar regions. The data gathered by this network is used by …