Science, Tech & Environment

The Sound of Earth's Security Blanket

We hear a lot about the fragility of life on earth these days…

Player utilities

Listen to the Story.

The impact of 7 billion-plus people is putting huge stresses on the natural systems that we depend on.

But at least some of the vital systems that protect our planet are largely beyond our ability to mess with.

And that's a strangely reassuring idea to The World's environment editor Peter Thomson…

He got to thinking about it, when he heard a newly recorded piece of sound.

That's it, that's the sound.

It's not crickets. It's not whales.

Nope, this loopy song has been around a lot longer than either of them.

Bear with me for a minute, I will let you know what it is, but let me work my way around to it.

Life is biology. And without really trying, we've invented millions of ways to mess with the earth's basic biological processes… We're seeing the results in mass extinctions and the destruction of ecosystems.

We're even messing with the earth's basic chemistry, from the atmosphere to the oceans.

But the physical forces that helped make life blossom? Well, here we finally may have found something that can't be touched by human hands

Take, for instance, the earth's magnetic field.

Our planet has a big iron core, and as the earth spins, it creates a powerful magnetic field that extends = into space and forms a sort of protective bubble around the planet. It's called the Magnetosphere, and although you can't see it, scientists draw it as kind of a big donut tucked around the earth.

It deflects most of the charged particles blasting off the sun. Without it, that solar wind would basically blow away much of our atmosphere.

And here's where that weird, loopy sound comes in…

In August, NASA launched a couple of satellites to study the area where the earth's magnetic field meets the solar wind. And it turns out that a lot of those charged particles create radio waves that can be captured and turned into sound.

Long been recording these sounds from earth, but NASA says these are the best recordings ever of what they call "chorus."

It's physics at work. It's part of the reason we're here. And as far as we know, it's largely impervious to human impact.

And as someone who covers those other impacts every day, it's nice to know there are some things we can't wreck. And that as long as the earth keeps spinning, it'll also keep making its weird and wonderful music.