You live inside a massive musical instrument – and this is what it looks like

The ancients believed that the Earth was surrounded by celestial spheres, which produced divine music as they moved. We lived, so to speak, in a huge musical instrument. It might sound silly, but modern science has proved them right to some extent. Satellites recording sound waves resonating with Earth’s magnetosphere – the magnetic bubble that shields us from space radiation – show that we indeed live inside a massive magnetic musical instrument.

There are two key elements that control the sound of musical instrument notes: the size and shape of the instrument and the speed of sound throughout it. These determine the pitch of the notes and the timbre, character or quality of sound, via standing waves or resonances that are excited inside the instrument when sound waves bounce around it. It’s elegantly simple, but explains the rich variety of possible musical sounds.

Magnetic music.

It is the same within the protective magnetosphere of the Earth, dug by the solar wind. There are always some sound waves – pressure swings traveling through the medium they are in – traveling through space.

Well, these are not exactly the same type of sound waves that we receive on Earth. Space is filled with plasma rather than normal gas: a different state of matter made up of charged particles that can generate and be affected by electric and magnetic fields. These types of interactions can give rise to the plasma equivalent of sound waves: magnetosonic waves. They are also pressure waves, but with additional magnetism.

Such “magnetosonic” waves can bounce back into the magnetosphere and often create “resonances”, where the frequency is just right for these waves to grow and grow in energy rather than quickly depleting themselves.

Most musical instruments only support one type of resonance – whether it is the vibrations of a string like in a guitar, the surface waves on a membrane like on a drum, or the sound in a cavity like in a drum. a flute. However, the magnetosphere has analogs of all three types of resonance at the same time.

Another difference between the Earth’s magnetic instrument and the ones we are more used to is the way it changes over time. Play a note on a musical instrument a few minutes, hours, or even days apart and you wouldn’t expect much of a difference in the sound produced. This is because not much has changed. Of course, the instrument may eventually need to be re-tuned when tightening the strings, but this is usually after a while.

Constant readjustment

The magnetosphere, on the other hand, almost always changes – it grows and shrinks in direct response to the ever-fluctuating solar wind. One would imagine that this should change the notes of the magnetosphere, given how a musical instrument works.

This is a subject I have been working on recently. The problem is, you can’t just listen to how the notes change because it’s often not possible to know what triggered the detected waves or what kind of resonance has formed, simply because we don’t have a satellites placed at all points throughout this “instrument” listening to these sounds.

One potential way around this is to calculate how all of the different types of notes are expected to change using computer models of the magnetosphere under the different observed conditions. This approach suggested a considerable amount of variability in these scores, around 35-105%. This is comparable to between five semitones and a full octave. Fortunately, these models also revealed at least some of the controlling factors such as the density of the solar wind. Of course, these are just calculations and need to be tested against reality to be sure, so there is still work to be done.

We can’t actually hear these magnetosonic waves in space – the levels are well below the threshold of human hearing. But satellites can pick up sound and we can then amplify them and crush them in time to make them audible.

These notes are hidden among the full set of spatial sounds I posted online and now you can download the whole thing to do whatever you want with it. In fact, I invite short films that incorporate these sounds in a creative way as part of a competition. This is your chance to play the strange magnetic musical instrument that you have unwittingly lived in all your life, whether or not you manage to produce divine melodies.

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