If your diet has been science fiction, think the Alien series or books of a similar genre, you might have been led to think that in space, it is deadly silent. Sure, some film anthologies like Star Wars, Star Trek and its ilk are full of fantastical sounds in space, but it’s all actually done for effects.
As has been well established, in general space is a vacuum, and in a vacuum sound cannot travel. So that’s it then – nothing to hear in space? Well not quite, as many scientists have discovered.
Throughout the known universe, there are clouds of dust and gas – remains of dead stars or matter being pulled together to form a new star. If they’re dense enough there could be enough that are close together to enable sound to travel over that distance. An example of such may occur within black holes.
Some of those various sounds being emitted from different elements and parts of the universe could even be described as music. Though for most, the term “noise” might be more appropriate. Pretty much like some sounds being emitted by non-human living things which science has dubbed bio-music. Ominous.
From The Beginning
It (the Universe) all started with the Big Bang – at least that’s the generally accepted theory now. Presumably the very first sound should have come around then too. Some Hindu groups would have you believe that the first sound emitted through the vastness of space at the beginning was the sound of “om”. Of course, there seems to be no evidence of that.
At a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in 2005, two independent, comprehensive galaxy surveys were presented. The leader of one of the studies, University Of Arizona’s Daniel Eisenstein noted that at that time, if you pushed a pocket of hot gas (the composition of much of the universe then), there would be resistance to the compression and it would bounce back.
“The whole thing sits there and rings like a bell," Eisenstein said. The thick hot soup would transmit sound waves in the same manner that air or water do. When the fog cleared, the sound waves would have remained as countless ripples of material.”
But as team-member Idit Zehavi explained, the ring gets forever quieter and deeper in tone as the universe expands and becoming so faint, that only the most sensitive surveys can detect it.
So that brings up the expansion of the Universe. Let’s look at 760,000 years after the Big Bang though. It’s been proven that sounds waves travel through air (in this case interstellar gas) as oscillations in pressure. Sound waves travelling through, caused faint variations in pressure, and in turn left faint variations in temperature.
Starry, starry nights put out their own little mood music. In this video lecture from PBS Space Time you will hear the mention of G-waves, F-waves and P-waves but don’t wave it away. The P-waves, that is pressure waves, are the ones who put out much of the “dancing with the stars melodies”. They vibrate and oscillate using the rules of spherical harmonics. Of course, it’s much more complicated than that but hopefully you get the gist of it.
Note that it has been said earlier all the sounds coming through the Universe are not audible to humans. Their actual frequency has to be magnified to enable us to hear them.
Still interested? Perhaps to make things clearer, here are some samples of some stars putting their best sounds forward.
We know there are many different types of stars. One of those are neutron stars and they emit radio pulses or pulsars. Victoria Kaspi of the McGill University in this entertaining short video, shares with us a sound show, worthy of our time. I found the B0833-45 especially entertaining as it has a kind of Rio Carnaval vibe to it.
But what of our own star of the show – the sun? Do you find this a calming sound? Or is there a message encoded in there? Perhaps it’s saying “put on your sunscreen humanoids, else you get skin cancer.” The ways of the Universe, is still a mystery.
NASA, decided to put together a sample of sounds from mainly across the Solar System for Halloween. Maybe they do sound spooky, you be the judge. It includes another audio courtesy of the sun.
But there are a variety of unusual and interesting “ear parties”, almost like a “Best Of” compilation. The radio emissions from the planet Saturn is certainly horror worthy, so perhaps don’t listen to them at night or while alone. The plasma sounds from the spacecraft Voyager, made me want to rush to the kitchen to check on something.
The Juno spacecraft going past Jupiter picked up some sounds that would not be out of place in a B-grade or even C-grade monster movie. There are two different clips of those, so those two do not truly prepare you for the third clip that comes in later. And you don’t want to be around Jupiter during a lightning storm.
And while at Jupiter, let’s say hello to its largest moon Ganymede. Well, maybe skip that greeting because you might truly be terrified at the spectre of unknown creatures and some scary plumbing the Ganymedians have down below.
Do Martian exist? But Mars for sure has a rocking rhythm or its quakes do anyway.
If all objects in space basically emit sounds, what of our own lovely earth. It was interesting to find the radio waves within the planet’s atmosphere (yes, they cheated, not quite in space), sounding like it’s coming from a tropical jungle. But if we go out in space around the earth the magnetic waves might also sound familiar but we’ll let you find out yourselves.
If you’re in near space, there is something called whistler waves. It’s my favourite clip as it takes me back to my Star Wars and Star Trek movies. Rest assured do there are many more clips on this NASA compilation that will excite you.
Let’s end this with black holes. Physicist and astronomer Janna Levin noted that scientists can detect black holes from the sounds they emit. Levin explained that waves emitted by a black hole are almost akin to a drum being beaten.
Have a look at this video to hear what they sound like. Go directly to the 10:42 timestamp if you want to skip the interesting lecture before that.
Cover Image: Boxster via Getty Images
Writer | S. S. Yoga
Yoga is a freelance editor/writer/media consultant who does not like to be limited in his interests and hence occasionally gets TMI-infections. That does not stop him, though, from exploring many rabbit holes all over the world. He loves the challenge of organising data and experiences.