The scary sound of Earth’s magnetic field

It might sound like the stuff of nightmares.

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Earth’s magnetic field is a complex and dynamic bubble that keeps us safe from cosmic radiation and charged particles carried by powerful winds flowing from the Sun.

The magnetic field is something we can’t truly see or hear while crucial to life on Earth. Amazingly, researchers from the Technical University of Denmark were able to transform magnetic signals obtained from the ESA‘s Swarm satellite program into sound. The outcome is somewhat scary for something that is supposed to protect us.

The ocean of superheated, spinning liquid iron that makes up our outer core, located around 3000 km beneath our feet, is primarily responsible for generating a magnetic field. It acts like a rotating conductor in a bicycle dynamo, producing electrical currents that, in turn, produce our electromagnetic field, which is constantly changing.

ESA’s trio of Swarm satellites precisely measures the magnetic signals originating from Earth’s core, the mantle, crust, oceans, and the ionosphere and magnetosphere. Swarm is also leading to new insights into the weather in space.

Musician and project supporter Klaus Nielsen, from the Technical University of Denmark, explains“The team used data from ESA’s Swarm satellites, as well as other sources, and used these magnetic signals to manipulate and control a sonic representation of the core field. The project has certainly been a rewarding exercise in bringing art and science together.”

“It might sound like the stuff of nightmares, but remarkably, this audio clip represents the magnetic field generated by Earth’s core and its interaction with a solar storm.”

“We gained access to an interesting sound system of over 30 loudspeakers dug into the ground at the Solbjerg Square in Copenhagen.”

Strength of the magnetic field at Earth’s surface
Strength of the magnetic field at Earth’s surface. Credit: DTU/ESA

“We have set it up so that each speaker represents a different location on Earth and demonstrates how our magnetic field has fluctuated over the last 100 000 years.”

“Throughout this week, visitors will be able to hear the amazing rumble of our magnetic field – so if you are in Copenhagen, come along and check out this unique opportunity.”

“The rumbling of Earth’s magnetic field is accompanied by a representation of a geomagnetic storm that resulted from a solar flare on 3 November 2011, and indeed it sounds pretty scary.”

“The intention, of course, is not to frighten people – it is a quirky way of reminding us that the magnetic field exists and although its rumble is a little unnerving, the existence of life on Earth depends on it.”