Listen to the Wild Sounds of a Solar Storm Hitting Earth

Scientists created eerie sonifications of the waves produced by Earth’s magnetic field when it is juiced by radiation from solar storms.
​Simulation of solar energy hitting Earth's bow shock. Image: Vlasiator team, University of Helsinki
Simulation of solar energy hitting Earth's bow shock. Image: Vlasiator team, University of Helsinki

If you’ve ever wondered it sounds like when the fallout of the Sun’s intense storms slam into Earth’s protective magnetic field, the European Space Agency (ESA) has you covered.

This week, ESA released several audio and video demonstrations of the magnetic waves created around our planet when it is exposed to the Sun’s stormy outbursts of radiation and charged particles.

These songs are not what you’d literally hear if you were in the bow shock, the area near Earth where solar storms first clash with our planet’s magnetic field. The recordings are based on magnetic wave measurements collected by ESA’s Cluster satellite constellation from 2001 to 2005, which have been assigned sound frequencies to create an accessible representation of the data.


For instance, the below sonification posted to Soundcloud is built from measurements of magnetic waves obtained by Cluster during periods of high solar activity.

Compare that wild and haunting sound to this more muted, low-frequency version that represents times when the Sun was relatively calm.

The otherworldly recordings were generated using data from a new study in Geophysical Research Letters that presents the first observations of the extreme effects of the Sun on the Earth’s foreshock, which is a region on the leading edge of the bow shock.

Led by Lucile Turc, a physicist at the University of Helsinki, the study shows that the magnetic waves produced by the foreshock during solar storms are much more complicated than previously assumed.

“Our study reveals that solar storms profoundly modify the foreshock region,” said Turc in a statement. “It’s like the storm is changing the tuning of the foreshock.”

Turc and his colleagues also created a video representation of the complex pattern of foreshock waves when solar activity is at its peak.

Understanding the dynamics of Earth’s magnetic field is important because it has shielded life on our planet from the Sun’s deadly radiation for billions of years. This is obviously splendid news for humans and other Earthlings, but it could also have implications for assessing the potential habitability of alien worlds beyond our solar system.

“This is an excellent example of how Cluster continues to extend our knowledge of the Sun-Earth connection, even years after the original data was obtained,” said Philippe Escoubet, ESA project scientist for Cluster, in a statement.

“The results take us deeper into the details of fundamental magnetic interactions that take place across the Universe.”