The typical all-nighter consists of that time between 1am and 5am, when we think we are in ‘The Zone’, and are pumping out that pesky essay, nodding our heads to a montage of loud, grungy songs. Cue that dubstep. Well, recent information from a NASA spacecraft has shown that we humans aren’t the only ones that can drop the bass.
The spacecraft was able to record the sound of the Earth from space. Named Chorus, the audio sounds remarkably similar to an electronic beat. It is not a mash-up of all the car honks and bird chirps of the planet, but instead consists of radio wave oscillations from the Earth’s radiation belts.
These radiation belts are two concentric donut-shaped layers of plasma that are anchored by the magnetic field, with the planet sitting comfortably in the ‘donut hole’. The outermost and innermost layers are positioned thousands of kilometres above the atmosphere. It is believed that particles in these layers, including high-energy electrons trapped in the belts, originate from solar wind, which is emitted by the Sun.
The Chorus radio waves pose a unique problem. The waves are thought to energise the so-called killer electrons. These electrons are ridiculously high in energy, and have the potential to interfere with satellites, affecting our GPS systems and telephones. In 2010, the Galaxy 15 satellite short-circuited after being pounded by these electrons.
Craig Keltzing, a member of the NASA program that studies the belts, compared the killer electrons to surfers that can ‘ride’ the radio waves. Satellites are very vulnerable to these packets of electrons streaming through the waves. NASA is investigating methods of predicting when the electrons and waves are at their most dangerous.
In the mean time, the Chorus Earth song continues, and Skrillex might need to lift his game. Interestingly, Saturn and Jupiter also have radiation belts. Planetary scale billboard chart, anyone?