NASA has commissioned a musical composition to be produced that will include the sounds from space gathered by a University of Iowa physicist. Strange, whistling sounds that almost sound like birds chirping will be the basis for the unusual piece of music. U-of-I physics and astronomy professor Don Gurnett says the sounds were startling for the scientists who were working on various robotic space explorers.It’s the sound of electrons colliding in the Van Allen radiation belts far outside the Earth’s atmosphere. Spacecraft passing by other planets have picked up more strange sounds, collected by Gurnett, which he says are similar in their screeching and chirping. While some may think space would be silent, Gurnett says that’s not the case at all.Gurnett has already met with the conductor of the Kronos Quartet. Whatever music they come up with based upon the sounds will be part of a nationwide tour that will start at Iowa City’s Hancher Auditorium.That sound was recorded by a space probe surveying the Van Allen radiation belts — between the Earth and Moon. They were discovered by another U-of-I physicist, James Van Allen, in 1958. Gurnett has worked on 25 major spacecraft projects, including Voyager 1 (to Neptune and Uranus), Galileo (to Jupiter) and Cassini (to Saturn).
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