By Safa Gangat
Science and music as one? That sounds strange to the average joe, especially when you’ve always thought of both fields as different if not entirely opposite!
The Cassini spacecraft, which has been in space for almost 20 years, ended its mission of exploring Saturn on September 15th, 2017.
The spacecraft’s exploration of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, produced never seen before images that revealed it to be earth-like. The spacecraft’s legacy involved taking 22 weekly “dives” between Saturn and its rings, which refers to a pass between the two. Cassini caught the frequencies produced by Saturn’s rings turning it into music. That is how a group of University of Toronto astrophycisists turned Cassini’s mission into music.
One third of the group, Matt Russo, a postdoctoral researcher at the Canadian Institute of Theoretical Astrophysics explains that due to the massive size of Saturn’s rings, the frequencies produced were of very low pitches.
“You know how a cello has a lower pitch than a violin? Imagine that, but Saturn-sized!”, says Russo
“It gives you a way to feel science. It connects two worlds that people usually think of as a separate”, Russo tells the Toronto Star
Essentially, the group extracted the orbital resonances from the spacecraft travelling around Saturn’s rings and converted the resonances into musical harmonies - specifically, if two objects are orbiting at different speeds, eventually they will arrive at the same spot and the rhythmic gravitational tug occurs, the waves created are what were converted into musical harmonies.
Although music was created, does that mean it’s actually able to be heard by the human ear? That’s where it gets better. To hear the music created from the orbital resonances from Saturn, Russo and his colleagues Dan Tamayo (postdoctoral researcher, University of Toronto’s Centre for Planetary Sciences) and Andrew Santaguida (professional musician) had to dial the notes up 27 octaves.
It’s definitely music now - a minute and a half of it from the six-month mission of Cassini.
It’s beyond impressive what Russo, Tamayo, and Santaguida have done by bridging the gap between two separate forms of study.
That goes to the other reason why I really like space and astronomy: It’s people’s reactions; you see their eyes widen and their jaws drop.” Russo tells the Star
It would be unsurprising that people’s jaw dropped when discovering that a spacecraft’s final mission was able to be turned into music. The world of astrophysics continues to astound its followers focusing on the actual nature of planets rather than their positon in space, learning that music can be extracted by revolving a spacecraft around Saturn.