May 4, 2017

"What he had expected was something more like the din of 'driving through Iowa in a hailstorm'...."

That's how dust particles would have sounded as Cassini passed through the plane of Saturn's rings.
To be clear; Cassini did not actually hear any sounds. It is, after all, flying through space where there is no air and thus no vibrating air molecules to convey sound waves. But space is full of radio waves, recorded by Dr. Kurth’s instrument, and those waves... can be converted into audible sounds.

Dr. Kurth said the background patter was likely oscillations of charged particles in the upper part of Saturn’s ionosphere where atoms are broken apart by solar and cosmic radiation. The louder tones were almost certainly “whistler mode emissions” when the charged particles oscillate in unison.
The link goes to the NYT, which I tried to improve by putting in that ellipsis, but now I want you to share my pain by showing you what I took out there: "just like the ones bouncing through the Earth’s atmosphere to broadcast the songs of Bruno Mars, Beyoncé and Taylor Swift."

IN THE COMMENTS: Ignorance is Bliss said: "So close. If they had gone with the songs of Freddie Mercury and Bruno Mars it would have at least played on the planetary theme."

25 comments:

Biff said...

A reference to Bruno Mars, Beyoncé and Taylor Swift in an NYT science article about the translation of Saturnian radio waves into sound? I suppose a reference to any one of them would have been okay as an awkward or jejune attempt to appeal to a lay audience, but all three? Don't these articles have character limits? Why these three, in particular? Why not Chopin? Why not a Nobel laureate, like Bob Dylan?

Ignorance is Bliss said...

...just like the ones bouncing through the Earth’s atmosphere to broadcast the songs of Bruno Mars, Beyoncé and Taylor Swift.

So close. If they had gone with the songs of Freddie Mercury and Bruno Mars it would have at least played on the planetary theme.

Bob Boyd said...

Maybe they're accepting paid product endorsements now, like when you see the star clearly display a Budweiser or something in a movie.

Fernandinande said...

"just like the ones bouncing through the Earth’s atmosphere to broadcast the songs"

In addition to being dumb, that statement is technically incorrect unless the radio waves @Saturn are modulated carrier waves, which they aren't.

Scientific scientism and the MSM don't mix well.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

To be clear; Cassini did not actually hear any sounds. It is, after all, flying through space where there is no air and thus no vibrating air molecules to convey sound waves.

No air needed. If the particles are striking Cassini, then they are causing vibrations in the structure of Cassini itself. Cassini is deaf; has no sensor to measure such vibrations.

Fernandinande said...

Ignorance is Bliss said...
No air needed. If the particles are striking Cassini,


The article mixes up radio waves and hitting dust particles, and their example sounds were quite uninteresting. Better ones sound like ghost-movie theremins.

Paddy O said...

how dust particles would have sounded as Cassini passed through the plane of Saturn's rings.

Drops of Jupiter sounds like a Train.

EDH said...

Reminds me of the sound when they sprinkled moon dust in my hair and golden starlight in my eyes of blue.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

EDH said...

Reminds me of the sound when they sprinkled moon dust in my hair and golden starlight in my eyes of blue.

The moon dust and startlight really don't show in your profile picture.

clint said...

"Ignorance is Bliss said...

"No air needed. If the particles are striking Cassini, then they are causing vibrations in the structure of Cassini itself. Cassini is deaf; has no sensor to measure such vibrations."

+1. Beat me to it.

I can understand why science journalists don't know enough science to write accurately, but I've never understood why they don't run their articles past the "sources" they interviewed -- the scientists who *could* get it right.

John Tuffnell said...

So close. If they had gone with the songs of Freddie Mercury and Bruno Mars it would have at least played on the planetary theme.

Could have worked in a "sounds coming from Uranus" joke for the men too. Not for the ladies, because that's not funny.

buwaya said...

Not Holst?
Have things declined so far?

buwaya said...

There was a time when "The Planets" was something everyone would have known. Its cited or implied in any number of pop-sci articles of the old NASA days, and popular fiction like "Stranger in a Strange Land".
Sort of like the citing of Omar Khayyam in "I Dream of Jeannie".

Bill Peschel said...

Glad to see that the "radio waves" comment was wrong. I'm no scientist, so I was wondering if something as man-made as "radio waves" exists that is not man-made (or Autotuned).

Ann Althouse said...

"No air needed. If the particles are striking Cassini, then they are causing vibrations in the structure of Cassini itself. Cassini is deaf; has no sensor to measure such vibrations."

So... if somehow you could get your ear up there and hold it right up against the exterior wall, would you hear the particles hitting? I say no, because you'd need air in the passageway leading into your eardrum.

I know I'm leaving out other survival issues. I'm just trying to understand what it means to talk about "sound" up there, out there.... It's a variation on if a tree falls in the forest.

Anyway... they had an instrument picking up the vibrations that are what you'd hear as sound if your eardrum were right there.

mockturtle said...

Gustav Holst got it right with The Planets.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

So... if somehow you could get your ear up there and hold it right up against the exterior wall, would you hear the particles hitting? I say no, because you'd need air in the passageway leading into your eardrum.

I say yes, if the side of your head was in physical contact with Cassini. The sound would travel through your body. The acoustics would be different, but you would still hear it.

Anyway... they had an instrument picking up the vibrations that are what you'd hear as sound if your eardrum were right there.

They had an instrument that picked up radio wave, which people then converted to sound. I do not know if that sound in any way resembled what you would hear if you were inside Cassini, and Cassini was filled with air such that you could hear the impacts through normal-functioning ears.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

Bill Peschel said...

Glad to see that the "radio waves" comment was wrong. I'm no scientist, so I was wondering if something as man-made as "radio waves" exists that is not man-made (or Autotuned).

The "radio waves" comment was wrong, in that they are not in a format that can be converted to sound by a radio. However, there is a part of the electro-magnetic spectrum that is referred to as "radio waves", even if it is not in a format that can be converted to sound by a radio. Cassini may ( or may not ) have been picking up electro-magnetic waves from that part of the spectrum.

Ficta said...

That's a semi-confusing article, but overall it's not bad as these things go. I was able to infer what the scientists were trying to convey even with the reporter mediating (this is not always the case). The story is:

1. Bill Kurth's instrument measures radio waves.
2. You can make plots of what they measure.
3. You can also convert their data to audio, which is easier for a layman to grasp (and sometimes, you might notice certain features more clearly in the audio than you would in the plot). This conversion is, broadly speaking, similar to using a radio to listen to Taylor Swift.
4. There are several sources of radio waves around Saturn. If the Cassini spacecraft hits a dust particle, the dust particle vaporizes. This also makes radio waves. So you can get a measure of how much dust you're hitting by analyzing your radio wave measurements.

Fernandinande said...

Bill Peschel said...
Glad to see that the "radio waves" comment was wrong. I'm no scientist, so I was wondering if something as man-made as "radio waves" exists that is not man-made (or Autotuned).


They (astronomers or their advertising department) convert natural "radio* waves" into sound by changing the frequency to something people can hear, so in a way you're hearing the actual radio wave.

Man-made radio waves carry sound information by modulating the carrier wave (the "radio wave") with the sound: AM = amplitude modulation, FM = frequency modulation. You never hear the actual radio wave.

* "radio" = electromagnetic radiation in a certain frequency range, and can be man-made or "natural"; no actual radios are needed. Other frequencies would be called "light wave" or "X-rays", etc. rather than radio waves.

Bob Boyd said...

Cassini found a warm, underground ocean on Saturn's moon Enceladus.

If you held Cassini to your ear, you might hear that.

Rusty said...

Ann @ 10:28
I'm sure that sound can be propagated through other media besides air and water.

Ann Althouse said...

Yes, but the eardrum is at the end of a canal. If that canal contained a vaccuum....

But I realize the vibration could go through the bone to the eardrum, so if yo pressed your cheek against the walk of the Cassiini you coukd hear without air... if we assume a way that you could be alive.

Freeman Hunt said...

I want to see the Venn diagrams that show the overlap of NYT readers and fans of those acts.

Rusty said...

The vibrations exist whether you're there to hear them or not.
The interesting finding is that there is so little debris between the rings.