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Celebrate Halloween With These Unsettling Sounds From Outer Space

NASA’s new SoundCloud playlist captures the sounds of planets, comets and plasma waves

NASA's Halloween playlist captures the sounds of the solar system (NASA)
smithsonian.com

The tracks on NASA’s latest playlist—released just in time for the spookiest day of the year—are eerily reminiscent of classic science fiction tropes: “Plasmaspheric Hiss” could be a slowed-down cut of Darth Vader’s heavy breathing, “Juno: Entering Jupiter’s Magnetosphere” sounds like a recording of an intergalactic battle scene and “Beware of Jupiter’s Largest Moon Ganymede” is the space equivalent of fingernails on a chalkboard.

As Thrillist’s James Chrisman reports, the space agency’s new SoundCloud playlist, “Spooky Sounds from Across the Solar System,” is somewhat misleadingly titled. The 22 recordings—ranging from lightning on Jupiter to roaring plasma waves—are actually radio waves converted into sound.

“Soaring to the depths of our universe, gallant spacecraft roam the cosmos, snapping images of celestial wonders," according to a NASA statement that accompanies the playlist. "Some spacecraft have instruments capable of capturing radio emissions. When scientists convert these to sound waves, the results are eerie to hear.” 

The tracks feature many celestial wonders, including planets, a comet and plasma waves. NASA provided explanations for several of the sounds, but the rest are left open to the interpretation—and overactive imagination—of listeners.

Juno: Crossing Jupiter’s Bow Shock” captures the Juno spacecraft's June 2016 journey across Jupiter’s magnetic field. Whistling sounds are punctuated by a resounding boom at the moment the craft enters Jupiter’s magnetosphere.

Stardust: Passing Comet Tempel 1” explores the dramatic encounter between NASA’s Stardust spacecraft and comet debris sent flying into the spaceship’s protective shield.

Plasmawaves – Chorus” records the whistler-mode waves found beyond the plasmasphere. As electrons hit the warm plasma, they generate a chorus of chirping sounds.

Halloween may be the ideal time to delve into the sounds of the universe, but space buffs will benefit from a visit to NASA’s SoundCloud page at any point in the year. The agency’s other playlists include topics such as "Golden Record: Greetings to the Universe," "President Kennedy Sounds" and early communication recordings entitled "Vintage Sounds."

About Meilan Solly
Meilan Solly

Meilan Solly is an intern with the American Society of Magazine Editors. She is a senior in the College of William and Mary/University of St. Andrews Joint Degree Programme. Previously, Solly interned at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance and served as editor-in-chief of The Saint, St. Andrews’ student newspaper.

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