School of Physics and Astronomy

Research Paper and Anthology Film result from Space Sounds Public Engagement

Researchers suggest that making measurements audible can advance discovery and contribute to the production of art

17 October 2018

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Coronal mass ejections, eruptions of plasma from the Sun, can impact Earth's magentic shield and lead to consequences on our technology known as space weather. Image credit: NASA.

The School of Physics and Astronomy has been running public engagement projects which make the ultra-low frequency waves within Earth's space environment being made audible to the human ear. These efforts have resulted in both new scientific results thanks to exploratory citizen science by school students and a creative anthology film produced by independent filmmakers internationally.

The School students from Eltham Hill School in south east London, working as part of our Research in Schools programme, successfully identified sounds caused by a solar storm in the Earth’s magnetic shield which have now been published in the scientific journal Space Weather.

The group of students identified a series of waves whose pitch decreased over the course of several days. They found that this event occurred after a Coronal Mass Ejection or ‘solar storm’ caused a great disturbance to Earth’s space environment. The study shows that the waves were somewhat like the vibrations of a plucked guitar string which forms a distinct note, while the changing pitch was due to the recovery process of our space environment following the storm. Events like these have rarely been discussed, but by taking advantage of the audible data’s sped up playback and the amazing abilities of the human ear, the study reveals many similar patterns present in the data showing them to be far more common than previously thought.

This audible data isn’t just being used for science though. Today also sees the release of an anthology of short films all of which were inspired by and incorporate these sounds. Seven short films resulted from the SSFX (Space Sound Effects) project in 2017 and have been touring film festivals and events internationally since.

The collection of films have been combined into an anthology which is now available to watch for free online. The shorts are connected together by a framing story which depicts the consequences of space weather and why researchers study it.

Both projects have utilised data from the USA's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminsitration, who are now making the audible dataset produced by Queen Mary researchers publicly available.