NASA's Cassini captures eerie audio of interaction between Saturn and Enceladus

This recording was captured by the Radio Plasma Wave Science (RPWS) instrument on 2 September 2017

Late last month, new findings from the Cassini spacecraft suggested that complex organic molecules have been discovered originating from one of Saturn's moons, Enceladus, adding to its potential to support life.

Now, almost as if those complex organic molecules suddenly jumped to life, a video released by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory shows a spooky sound captured by the Cassini spacecraft during its flight around Saturn last year. The (literally) otherworldly sound is the interaction of plasma waves between Saturn and Enceladus, and was published in a research led by physicist Bill Kurth at the University of Iowa.

But since we cannot "hear" the interaction of plasma waves, researchers converted the original recording into a “whooshing” audio file that we can hear — in the same way that a radio translates electromagnetic waves into music. Here's what was heard:

This recording was captured by the Radio Plasma Wave Science (RPWS) instrument on 2 September 2017, two weeks before Cassini was deliberately plunged into the atmosphere of Saturn, an official statement said.

But sound doesn't travel in a vacuum, so how did Cassini record this celestial-Hans-Zimmer kind of musical?

"Much like air or water, plasma (the fourth state of matter) generates waves to carry energy," NASA explained.

"Enceladus is this little generator going around Saturn, and we know it is a continuous source of energy. Now we find that Saturn responds by launching signals in the form of plasma waves, through the circuit of magnetic field lines connecting it to Enceladus hundreds of thousands of miles away," AH Sulaiman, lead author of the paper, said.

NASA, in this recent video, released an unusual sound that was captured by the Cassini spacecraft last year. YouTube screengrab

NASA, in this recent video, released an unusual sound that was captured by the Cassini spacecraft last year. YouTube screengrab

The Cassini spacecraft first flew close to the ice-covered moon in 2005 as part of a mission to gather data on Saturn that will be analysed for years to come.

Last week's discovery of the organic molecules also created ripples in the scientific community, apart from steering the focus for the search for extraterrestrial life. Their findings were published in the Nature journal.

"It is the first-ever detection of complex organics coming from an extraterrestrial water world," a team led by Frank Postberg and Nozair Khawaja of the University of Heidelberg in Germany saidexplaining that they had identified fragments of large organic molecules in ice grains that were ejected from geysers through cracks in the moon's icy exterior.

Cassini has previously detected lightweight organic molecules at Enceladus but the newly found fragments are much larger. Such large molecules can only be created by complex chemical processes including those related to life, the European Space Agency said.

An image of Saturn's moon Enceladus captured by the Cassini spacecraft. AFP

An image of Saturn's moon Enceladus captured by the Cassini spacecraft. AFP

However, while this indicates that Enceladus may have conditions that could allow for life, organic compounds can also arise from other sources, such as from meteorites.

Postberg said the fragments could come from hydrothermal activity deep within the moon.

"In my opinion the fragments we found are of hydrothermal origin, having been processed inside the hydrothermally active core of Enceladus: in the high pressures and warm temperatures we expect there, it is possible that complex organic molecules can arise," he said.

The Cassini joint mission between NASA, ESA and the Italian space agency came to an end in 2017.

With inputs from Reuters




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