Music of the sun recorded by scientists

You
won’t find this music on Apple’s iTunes, and even if you did it, you certainly
wouldn’t wind up humming it all day. However, the most talked-about song in the
world — at least in astronomical circles — comes from a very unlikely
performer: The Sun. For the first time, astronomers at the University of
Sheffield have managed to record the eerie musical harmonies produced by the
magnetic field in the outer atmosphere of the sun – the discovery that could
provide new ways of understanding and predicting solar flares before they
happen.

The
scientists at the University of Sheffield found that huge magnetic loops that
have been observed coiling away from the outer layer of the Sun’s atmosphere,
known as coronal loops, vibrate like strings on a musical instrument.

Using
satellite images of these loops, which can be over 60,000 miles long scientists
were able to recreate the sound by turning the visible vibrations into noises
and speeding up the frequency so it is audible to the human ear.

“It
was strangely beautiful and exciting to hear these noises for the first time
from such a large and powerful source,” said Prof Robertus von Fay-Siebenbrgen,
head of the solar physics research group at Sheffield University. “It is a sort
of music as it has harmonics.

“It
is providing us with a new way of learning about the sun and giving us a new
insight into the physics that goes on at in the sun’s outer layers where
temperatures reach millions of degrees,” Fay-Siebenbrgen added.

According
to scientists, the coronal loops are thought to be involved in the production
of solar flares that fling highly charged particles out into space, creating a
phenomenon known as space weather.

–When
the sun’s activity, and thus solar flare production, increases, the resulting
“space storm” can have catastrophic results here on earth, destroying
electronic equipment, overheating power grids and damaging satellites.

Last
week, NASA warned that the sun’s activity is starting to increase following an
extended period of low activity and is on course to throw out unprecedented
levels of magnetic energy into the solar system by 2013.

Professor
Fáy-Siebenbürgen said that studying the “music of the sun” would provide new
ways of understanding and predicting solar flares before they happen.

The
coronal loops vibrate from side to side because they are “plucked” rather like
guitar strings by the blast waves from explosions on the surface of the sun.

The
scientists also found the loops vibrate backwards and forwards in a way that
mimics the acoustic waves in a wind instrument. They cannot directly record the
sound produced in the Sun’s atmosphere because sound cannot travel through the
near vacuum of space.

However,
they are able to use visual observations of the frequency at which the coronal
loops vibrate to recreate the sound back here on Earth. “These loops are
oscillating like the strings on a guitar or the air in a wind instrument. Over
time the waves die away and that is telling us new things about the physics in
the sun’s atmosphere,” said Prof Robertus von Fay-Siebenbrgen.

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