Fred Scarf is one of the few people on Earth who listens to the song of other planets and the only one who synthesizes them into the "music of the spheres." The TRW Inc. scientist has an instrument on the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Voyager 2 spacecraft which he describes as "sort of a car radio antenna attached to a tape recorder." This picks up the radio waves generated in the vicinity of the spacecraft. Lately, Dr. Scarf has rigged up a microcomputer and music synthesizer to turn the noise of space and planets into a "Star Wars"-style siren song.
(His instrument, known as the Plasma Wave Detector, was not one of those affected by Voyager's recent problems. Over the weekend the Voyager flight team got the Lazy Susan-type platform that held the spacecraft's cameras and several other instruments operating predictably again. Following a series of tests, they now believe some dust or debris may have been caught in the gears. When the spacecraft cut across the plane of Saturn's rings Aug. 25, the plasma detector picked up a brief and extremely intense burst of noise that Dr. Scarf interprets as caused by a hail of tiny dust particles falling on the spacecraft.
Normally, the sounds that Dr. Scarf records have an eerie quality. Delicate, crystalline tones; bird-like chirps; deep, booming notes, and piercing whistles weave in complex and haunting patterns. Gustav Holst -- composer of the symphony "the Planets" -- would have been edified.
Actually, Dr. Scarf acknowledges, if you were riding on the distant spacecraft that has just looped by Saturn and begun its five-year journey to Uranus, you wouldn't hear much. The interplanetary void is as silent as you might imagine. However, this same space is noisy in radio frequencies; Dr. scarf simply is converting this inaudible cacophony into audible sounds.
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