Ask most people to hum some music from the planets and they’ll probably regale you with a few bars of Holst. But thanks to NASA’s two Voyager space probes, we no longer have to rely on human composers to imagine the sorts of sounds which best suit the orbs in our solar system. We can, in fact, sit back and let the planets do the singing…
You see, both Voyagers 1 and 2 were launched into space 35 years ago (a fact celebrated this evening in BBC4’s new documentary Voyager: to the Final Frontier), and since then, in addition to sending back some of the most detailed images of our planetary neighbours ever taken, they’ve also inadvertently provided us with recordings of those worlds’ sounds too.
“But surely,” I hear you cry, “in space no-one can hear you scream!” How is it possible to record sound in the noiseless void of space?
Well, as part of their data-collecting mission, the Voyager probes recorded the electromagnetic waves emmanating from Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune as they passed by those planets. These signals were then translated by NASA into sound, which effectively gave us real honest-to-goodness planetary music. What’s it like? Well, rather dark, ambient and haunting. Here’s a sample of Jupiter’s “theme”:
In fact, NASA issued a series of LPs of Voyager sound recordings in the early 1990s, which are nowadays inexplicably out of print. Marketing the records at the time, NASA said: “Some of these sounds are hauntingly like human voices singing, giant Tibetan bowls, wind waves, birds and dolphins. Many are familiar in a way unique for each listener.”
The organisation also pointed out that as both Voyagers have now, like Elvis, left the solar system, “the sounds on these recordings will never be made again in our lifetime.” Which is a rather humbling thought, isn’t it?
So in honour of the 35th anniversary of these remarkable probes, and as an extra to tonight’s BBC4 doc, why not sit back, get into a meditative state of mind and listen to some truly out of this world music?
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