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Sound Waves From the Northern Lights. Jada Maxwell. Photo courtesy of Bjorn Jorgensen, 18 January 2005, near Tromsø, Norway

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sound waves from the northern lights
Sound Waves From the Northern Lights

Jada Maxwell

Photo courtesy of Bjorn Jorgensen, 18 January 2005, near Tromsø, Norway

“Synergy means behavior of whole systems unpredicted by the behavior of their parts taken separately.”- Buckminster Fuller
can magnetic waves in the aurorae transform into sound waves
Can magnetic waves in the aurorae transform into sound waves?
  • What creates the aurora?
  • Sound waves from the aurora
  • Wave transformation on the Sun
  • Beginning to answer my question
chain of events

The aurora is created by a chain of events, beginning with energy from the sun.

Chain of Events

Image courtesy of Tom Michalik

the magnetosphere
The Magnetosphere

Image courtesy of Minnesota Technolog

coronal mass ejection cme
Coronal Mass Ejection (CME)

Illustration by Steele Hill, courtesy of NASA

particles spiral down field lines
Particles Spiral Down Field Lines

Image: Fundamentals of Physics, 2005

particles 2
Particles 2

Particles Spiral Down Field Lines

  • Collide with atomic and molecular oxygen and nitrogen
  • Emit energy as light
this creates the aurorae
This Creates the Aurorae
  • Northern Lights = Aurora Borealis
  • Southern Lights = Aurora Australis

Image courtesy of Shawn Malone

nearly mirror images
Nearly Mirror Images

Aurora Borealis

Aurora Australis

Images courtesy of NOAA

can we hear the aurorae
Can we hear the aurorae?
  • Anecdotal evidence of auroral sounds
  • hissing, popping, crackling, swooshing
  • corresponds with motions of light
6 minutes
6 minutes
  • Sound would take at least 6 minutes to travel from the aurora to the ground
  • No recordings of audible aurorae
explanations of audible sounds
Explanations of Audible Sounds
  • Psychological
  • Freezing Breath
  • “Brush discharge”
evidence of infrasound from aurorae
Evidence of Infrasoundfrom Aurorae
  • Humans can hear between 20 and 20,000 Hertz (Hz)
  • Infrasound is below 20 Hz
  • Currently being investigated
  • Gas expansion
types of magnetic waves
Types of Magnetic Waves
  • Alfvén waves (s-mode)
  • Magnetosonic waves (p-mode)

Images courtesy of Georgia State University

BBC animations

my question
My Question

Can magnetic waves in the aurorae transform into sound waves?

finding beta
Finding Beta

Gas (atmospheric) Pressure

Beta = β =

Magnetic Field Pressure

β = 1 ?

  • All material has a frequency that it vibrates at
  • Matching the frequency allows the material to absorb energy
  • Singing wine glass
resonance in the aurora
Resonance in the Aurora

When β = 1,

  • Energy from magnetic waves can be transferred to the atmosphere
  • Found the right frequency
when beta 1
When Beta = 1

β= 1 ?

  • At 120 km
  • Near bottom of aurorae
more questions to investigate
More Questions to Investigate
  • How does β vary?
  • Compare gas expansion theory to wave transformation
  • How much might Alfvén and magnetosonic waves each contribute to this effect?
  • Which is more likely to transform?
thanks to
Thanks to:
  • Dr. E.J. Zita for her guidance and helpful discussions
  • Beth Stinson for instruction in PowerPoint
image sources
Image Sources:
  • NOAA (National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration)
  • NASA
  • Shawn Malone
  • Tom Michalik
  • Minnesota Technolog
  • Fundamentals of Physics, Halliday/Resnick/Walker, John Wiley & Sons, 2005, p 746