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Space Sonata: Comet 67P Sings for Rosetta Probe

Sep 30, 2016 05:46 AM EDT
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Rosetta mission
During its exploration of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, the Rosetta probe detected magnetic field oscillations that were later converted into sound. As the probe prepares for its finale, the comet sings a new song.
(Photo : DLR German Aerospace Center / Flickr)

Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko sings an ode to the Rosetta spacecraft as it prepares for its final journey.

When the European Space Agency's (ESA) Rosetta probe arrived at comet 67P in 2014, the magnetometer on the Rosetta Plasma Consortium (RPC-Mag) detected a mysterious "song" coming from the comet. Scientists found that the song came from oscillations in the plasma surrounding the nucleus of the comet.

According to the Rosetta team, the plasma environment around the comet's nucleus contains newborn ions that move perpendicularly to the magnetic field, forming a cross-field electric current. The unstable current gave rise to oscillations, which made the comet sing.

After monitoring the plasma for two years, the RPC team has again revealed a new song based on the data collected during the mission, describing the evolution of the comet from the perspective of Rosetta's magnetometer, ESA RPC said in a statement.

"Having detected the waves early in the mission, we later predicted they would return as soon as the activity would reduce... and they did! This was definitely a pleasant surprise," Karl-Heinz Glassmeier, RPC-Mag principal investigator, said in the same statement.

The scientists teamed up with composer Manuel Senfft, who worked on the comet's first song in 2014 titled "A Singing Comet," to create another sonification based on two-years' worth of data. Snefft used the symmetry of the magnetic field readings to construct a new piece called "A Comet's Life," which describes comet 67P's approach to perihelion--the closest point to the Sun along its orbit. The 1:30 minute-long song starts with waves that slowly builds up to a climax, and then gradually falls and ends with the waves.

"The first 'singing comet' was as exciting as hearing a baby's first cry, but the new track is even better," Glassmeier said. "It's a lifetime experience, and it's our experience, living with this incredible comet over the past two years."

After 12 years of comet exploration, the Rosetta probe will make one final scientific observation before it crashes into the icy comet on Sept. 30, officially ending its mission.

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