NASA’s latest space based scientific instrument may also be a radiation rock stars, recording the Earths Song and sending it to the top of the YouTube charts.
Launched August 2012 the twin RBSP satellites (Radiation Belt Storm Probes) have been dispatched to the Earths furthest regions, in this case the Van Allen radiation belt, to study space weather and hunt for the elusive and highly dangerous phenomenon, killer electrons.
Included for your viewing pleasure is the first Chorus recording to be released by NASA. The video ‘The sound of Earthsong’ captures the sounds of a living Earth, its chorus in any case. Still only a warm-up to the main event as the twin probes are in the testing and configuration phase of their mission, a 60 day testing period that is nearly over.
The chorus emissions chirp and pop, resembling a very natural animal noise, the sounds of a living planet. The clarity of these first recordings is very encouraging, the RBSP satellites are running well and ready to rock and roll.
Radiation Belt Storm Probes twin satellites
The twin RBSP satellites were launched atop an Atlas V rocket to begin their two year mission. Operating in an extremely harsh environment the RBSP satellites are going where most satellites fear to tread. Massive amounts of high energy particles, radiation and killer electrons are on the loose in the Van Allen belt. NASA normally shuts satellites down or changes orbits to avoid the area.
For the RBSP satellites this is not an option so NASA has built them tough to handle the conditions, designed to withstand the constant bombardment of high energy particles.
As ever with NASA budget reductions some asked why one satellite couldn’t be used, just make it orbit twice they might say. Two satellites sadly are essential for the mission as the energy fields being studied are constantly moving and changing.
Twin satellites also make it possible to record Earths sounds in stereo, add to that the 16bit recording capabilities and you have a rock-star in the making,
Alas there is also serious work to be done, for that each RBSP satellites carries 5 instrument payloads, each targeting a different aspect of the Earth’s magnetic field. As a part of NASA’s ‘Living with a Star’ program the satellites will also be helping to further our understanding of space weather.
Chorus phenomenon is far more than an incredible sound, it is an electromagnetic phenomenon created by the plasma present in the Van Allen belt and thought to be involved in the creation of killer electrons. The dangers in space are many.
Hunting a target such as Killer Electrons is an art form, speculation on how they are created and where there come from only drives home the fact that little is known of this deadly foe.
What is known? They are a rare phenomenon that can destroy a satellite with a single touch. Astronauts haven’t been tempted to put this 9v battery on their tongue, while it may not be deadly the effects of that much radiation can’t be good. Hopefully capturing Killer Electrons with the RBSP sensor arrays will help to answer some of these questions.
The Van Allen Belt
The Van Allen belt is an area of near Earth space that tends builds up radiation and high energy particles, making it very hazardous. Held in place by the Earth’s magnetic field the belt sits at an altitude of between 1,000 and 60,000 kilometers. As the magnetic field does its job radiation and high energy particles from the Sun are deflected into the Van Allen belt. When this region becomes highly charged the Aurora Borealis or Australis (North or South Pole) do their high luminance dance in the sky, the Earth Chorus call out and the killer electrons are forged.
Science at NASA
“This is what the radiation belts would sound like to a human being if we had radio antennas for ears,” says Kletzing, whose team at the University of Iowa built the “EMFISIS” (Electric and Magnetic Field Instrument Suite and Integrated Science) receiver used to pick up the signals.
He’s careful to point out that these are not acoustic waves of the kind that travel through the air of our planet. Chorus is made of radio waves that oscillate at acoustic frequencies, between 0 and 10 kHz. The magnetic search coil antennas of the Radiation Belt Storm Probes are designed to detect these kinds of waves.
“Chorus emissions are front and center for the Storm Probe mission,” says Kletzing. “They are thought to be one of the most important waves for energizing the electrons that make up the outer radiation belt.”
Our ears in the heavens, the RBSP twins are listening to the Earth’s magnetic field, giving it a tap and listening for the results. An extension of who we are, these satellites are our eyes and ears in places to distant and hostile for us to explore.