You won’t find this music on Apple’s iTunes, and even if you did it, you certainly wouldn’t wind up humming it all day. However, the most talked-about song in the world — at least in astronomical circles — comes from a very unlikely performer: The Sun, the Daily Telegraph (UK) reports.
For the first time, astronomers at the University of Sheffield have managed to record the eerie musical harmonies produced by the magnetic field in the outer atmosphere of the sun – the discovery that could provide new ways of understanding and predicting solar flares before they happen.
Scientists at the University of Sheffield found that huge magnetic loops that have been observed coiling away from the outer layer of the Sun’s atmosphere, known as coronal loops, vibrate like strings on a musical instrument.
The scientists – using satellite images of these loops, which can be over 60,000 miles long – were able to recreate the sound by turning the visible vibrations into noises and speeding up the frequency so it is audible to the human ear.
“It was strangely beautiful and exciting to hear these noises for the first time from such a large and powerful source,” said Prof Robertus von Fay-Siebenbrgen, head of the solar physics research group at Sheffield University. “It is a sort of music as it has harmonics.
“It is providing us with a new way of learning about the sun and giving us a new insight into the physics that goes on at in the sun’s outer layers where temperatures reach millions of degrees,” Fay-Siebenbrgen added.
According to scientists, the coronal loops are thought to be involved in the production of solar flares that fling highly charged particles out into space, creating a phenomenon known as space weather.
When the sun’s activity, and thus solar flare production, increases, the resulting “space storm” can have catastrophic results here on earth, destroying electronic equipment, overheating power grids and damaging satellites.
Last week, NASA warned that the sun’s activity is starting to increase following an extended period of low activity and is on course to throw out unprecedented levels of magnetic energy into the solar system by 2013.
Professor Fáy-Siebenbürgen said that studying the “music of the sun” would provide new ways of understanding and predicting solar flares before they happen.
The coronal loops vibrate from side to side because they are “plucked” rather like guitar strings by the blast waves from explosions on the surface of the sun.
The scientists also found the loops vibrate backwards and forwards in a way that mimics the acoustic waves in a wind instrument. They cannot directly record the sound produced in the Sun’s atmosphere because sound cannot travel through the near vacuum of space.
However, they are able to use visual observations of the frequency at which the coronal loops vibrate to recreate the sound back here on Earth. “These loops are oscillating like the strings on a guitar or the air in a wind instrument. Over time the waves die away and that is telling us new things about the physics in the sun’s atmosphere,” said Prof Robertus von Fay-Siebenbrgen.
Prof Fay-Siebenbrgen’s research has been made public as the University of Sheffield launches a new project, called “Project Sunshine,” aimed at finding new ways to harness and understand the power of the sun. [University of Sheffield via Daily Telegraph (UK) and Time]