Most of us here on earth are familiar with the blustery, buffeting noise a strong wind makes in our ears. That noise is low-frequency pressure waves in the air, caused by turbulence when it flows past our ears. There are other “winds” out there, though. One of the better-known ones is the solar wind, a stream of charged particles the Sun is constantly throwing off into space. During periods of heightened activity, such as this past week, these particles cause big auroras on Earth and can interfere with electronic communications. Until seeing this article today, though, I had never thought of what the buffeting of this wind might sound like.
They don’t actually sound like anything, since our ears hear pressure waves in air or water, not charged particles from space. But a PhD student in Design Science at the University of Michigan named Robert Alexander has made some really cool “sonifications” of the solar wind. I am not a solar physicist, but as best I can understand from this paper, he started with a series of ion measurements recorded on two NASA spacecraft over many days. From there, he converted those measurements to a sound file and played it back at a much faster rate, compressing months of data into a few seconds. In essence, he converted charged particles into airborne pressure waves. And it sounds really cool.