Cassini Reveals Saturn's Eerie-Sounding Radio Emissions

July 25, 2005

Saturn's radio emissions could be mistaken for a Halloween sound track.

 Image depicting radio emissions at Saturn
That's how two researchers describe their recent findings, published in the July 23 issue of the Geophysical Research Letters. Their paper is based on data from the Cassini spacecraft radio and plasma wave science instrument. The study investigates sounds that are not just eerie, but also descriptive of a phenomenon similar to Earth's northern lights.

All of the structures we observe in Saturn's radio spectrum are giving us clues about what might be going on in the source of the radio emissions above Saturn's auroras," said Dr. Bill Kurth, deputy principal investigator for the instrument. He is with the University of Iowa, Iowa City. Kurth made the discovery along with Principal Investigator Don Gurnett, a professor at the University. "We believe that the changing frequencies are related to tiny radio sources moving up and down along Saturn's magnetic field lines."

Samples of the resulting sounds can be heard at , and .

The radio emissions, called Saturn kilometric radiation, are generated along with Saturn's auroras, or northern and southern lights. Because the Cassini instrument has higher resolution compared to a similar instrument on NASA's Voyager spacecraft, it has provided more detailed information on the spectrum and the variability of radio emissions. The high-resolution measurements allow scientists to convert the radio waves into audio recordings by shifting the frequencies down into the audio frequency range.

The terrestrial cousins of Saturn's radio emissions were first reported in 1979 by Gurnett, who used an instrument on the International Sun-Earth Explorer spacecraft in Earth orbit. Kurth said that despite their best efforts, scientists still haven't agreed on a theory to fully explain the phenomenon.

They will get another chance to solve the radio emission puzzle beginning in mid-2008 when Cassini will fly close to, or possibly even through, the source region at Saturn. Gurnett said, “It is amazing that the radio emissions from Earth and Saturn sound so similar.”

Other contributors to the paper include University of Iowa scientists George Hospodarsky and Baptiste Cecconi; Mike Kaiser (currently at Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.); French scientists Philippe Louarn, Philippe Zarka and Alain Lecacheux; and Austrian scientists Helmut Rucker and Mohammed Boudjada.

Cassini, carrying 12 scientific instruments, on June 30, 2004, became the first spacecraft to orbit Saturn. It is conducting a four-year study of the planet, its rings and many moons. The spacecraft carried the Huygens probe, a six-instrument European Space Agency probe that landed on Titan, Saturn's largest moon, in January 2005.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Cassini-Huygens mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. JPL designed, developed and assembled the Cassini orbiter. The radio and plasma wave science team is based at the University of Iowa, Iowa City.

Source: NASA

Explore further: Under Saturnian moon's icy crust lies a 'global' ocean

Related Stories

Under Saturnian moon's icy crust lies a 'global' ocean

September 15, 2015

By measuring with exquisite precision the tiny wobbles of Saturn's moon Enceladus – whose cosmic quavers are detectable only in high-resolution images taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft – Cornell University researchers ...

The gas (and ice) giant Neptune

September 14, 2015

Neptune is the eight planet from our Sun, one of the four gas giants, and one of the four outer planets in our Solar System. Since the "demotion" of Pluto by the IAU to the status of a dwarf planet – and/or Plutoid and ...

The gas giant Jupiter

August 26, 2015

Ever since the invention of the telescope four hundred years ago, astronomers have been fascinated by the gas giant known as Jupiter. Between it's constant, swirling clouds, its many, many moons, and its red spot, there are ...

What causes lightning?

July 10, 2015

Thunder and lightning. When it comes to the forces of nature, few other things have inspired as much fear, reverence, or fascination – not to mention legends, mythos, and religious representations. As with all things in ...

Recommended for you

The hand and foot of Homo naledi

October 6, 2015

The second set of papers related to the remarkable discovery of Homo naledi, a new species of human relative, have been published in scientific journal, Nature Communications, on Tuesday, 6 October 2015.

New surfaces delay ice formation

October 6, 2015

If you've ever waited on an airport runway for your plane to be de-iced, had to remove all your food so the freezer could defrost, or arrived late to work because you had to scrape the sheet of ice off your car windshield, ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.