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article imageMysterious radio signals coming from Rosetta comet

By Stephen Morgan     Nov 12, 2014 in Science
The European Space Agency (ESA) has released a tape of mysterious radio signals coming from the “Rosetta comet,” or more precisely, comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on which its probe will land.
The ESA has dubbed 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko as the “singing comet.” The Agency's blog quotes Karl-Heinz, from Rosetta Plasma Consortium, as saying,
“This is exciting because it is completely new to us. We did not expect this and we are still working to understand the physics of what is happening,”
The explanation they are currently giving has to do with geophysics of the object. The blog says the discovery “has taken the RPC scientists somewhat by surprise. The comet seems to be emitting a ‘song’ in the form of oscillations in the magnetic field in the comet’s environment. It is being sung at 40-50 millihertz, far below human hearing, which typically picks up sound between 20 Hz and 20 kHz. To make the music audible to the human ear, the frequencies have been increased by a factor of about 10,000.”
It continues, “The music was heard clearly by the magnetometer experiment (RPC-Mag) for the first time in August, when Rosetta drew to within 100 km of 67P/C-G. The scientists think it must be produced in some way by the activity of the comet, as it releases neutral particles into space where they become electrically charged due to a process called ionization. But the precise physical mechanism behind the oscillations remains a mystery.
The Cosmos News describes the signal as “a strangely rhythmic sound that starts with a percussive purring and then ramps up into a combination of whooshing and clicking noises at an increasingly high pitch.”
According to the Examiner, the radio signal was first picked up some 20 years ago but its existence was denied for a long time by NASA. Some have suggested that the real reason for the mission is to find the source of the signal and those in the UFO world have speculated that it may be of alien origin.
Earlier this year, astronomers were also baffled by strange bursts of radio signals from deep space. Known as the four Fast Radio Bursts, they were detected by the huge Arecibo telescope in Puerto Rico. The possible explanations for this have included evaporating black holes, mergers of neutron stars, some with extremely powerful magnetic fields and bursts from giant pulsars. But nothing definitive has yet been proven.
NASA's SETI program was established 20 years ago to search the universe for radio signals as possible transmissions from alien civilizations following the “Wow” discovery in 1977 of signals which could not be explained by astrophysics.
The contact with 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko is the first time something like this has ever been thought to come from a comet. Among its many other tasks, scientists hope that the landing may finally offer an answer to this mystery.
More about Rosetta, Comet, Landing, Mysterious, Radio
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