Jupiter Sounds Like a Fax Machine and Nobody Knows Why1 min read

On Thursday, NASA dropped the first motherlode of information collected by the Juno spacecraft, which has been in orbit around Jupiter since last summer. Comprised of a whopping 46 papers, the data dump includes close-up images of the gas giant and new insights about its composition and behavior.

But there was one finding that stood out from the rest in terms of pure alien weirdness. During a close pass on February 2, Juno skimmed through Jupiter’s ionosphere—a region of ionized particles surrounding the planet—at an altitude of 9,000 miles above the cloud tops. As it zipped by, the orbiter’s Waves instrument picked up plasma wave signals, which Juno scientists converted into an audiovisual spectrogram. Take a look and a listen.

WAVES spectrogram. Video: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/Univ. of Iowa

It sounds like Jupiter’s trying to fax someone, or connect to the internet with a dial-up modem. This isn’t what you’d hear if you were perched on Juno during the pass, because the emissions clock in at 150 kHz, way out of human hearing range. But when slowed down by a factor of 60, the songs of the Jovian ionosphere can be converted into audible frequencies.

The Juno team thinks these tones are likely caused by charged particles detected by the spacecraft, but they won’t be sure without further investigations. Until then, enjoy the mysterious soundscape surrounding the solar system’s largest planet, and the 1990s communication technology it channels.

Sebastien Clarke
Sebastien Clarke

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