Shortly before the European Space Agency’s Philae Lander from the Rosetta mission touched down on the 67P comet, we — as in we humans — found out something pretty amazing. We found out that the 67P comet sounds an awful lot like the alien from the Arnold Schwarzenegger film Predator.
“Wait a minute,” you may ask. “How can a comet sound like anything?” There’s no air in space, so there’s no sound. That’s very true. But according to IFL Science, variations in the magnetic field around the comet were detected by the spacecraft’s RPC, or Rosetta Plasma Consortium, and translated into sound detectable to human ears.
According to the ESA Rosetta website, the Rosetta Plasma Consortium is “a set of five instruments sharing a common electrical and data interface with the Rosetta orbiter. The RPC instruments are designed to make complementary measurements of the plasma environment around comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.”
Basically, the Rosetta mission’s RPC was designed with three things in mind. First, its instruments figured out whether it would be safe to land on a comet in the first place, (remember, no one has ever done this before in the history of mankind!). Second, the RPC would look at aeronomy, dynamics, and coma structure, which is a fancy way of saying that the instruments would take a look at how the comet was moving up close, (were there earthquake-like tremors or odd shifts in rotation, etc.). Third, and this is where the Predator sound comes into play, the RPC studies the micro and macroscopic structure of the solar wind interaction region and the formation and development of the cometary tail.
Basically, the vibrations that Rosetta picked up are interactions between the 67P comet’s coma (the cloud of dust and gas surrounding the comet) and plasma from the Sun – also known as Solar Wind. The variations resulted in frequencies that were 40 to 50 millihertz, which is thousands and thousands of times lower than what is perceptible via the human ear. ESA scientists altered the pitch of the frequencies so that the “sound” could be heard by humans, and the result was a series of clicks that will make the hair on the neck of any science-fiction fan stand on end.
The European Space Agency said that they picked up these ultra-low frequencies as the Rosetta craft was approaching the comet, and they have no idea what is causing them. Karl Heinz, a principal RPC investigator with the ESA, was over the moon regarding the sounds.
“This is exciting because it is completely new to us. We did not expect this and we are still working to understand the physics of what is happening.”
Clearly, this is only one of the amazing new discoveries that will be made by Rosetta and the Philae Lander in one of the most exciting scientific accomplishments since the Moon landing.
[Images via ESA and Side Show Toys]