Last week, the European Space Agency became the first organization to successfully 'soft land' a probe onto a speeding comet. It was the final critical moment of a 6.4 billion kilometer journey that began all the way back in 2004.
I watched it live, and I have to say, it was rather incredible to know a plucky little lander was hurtling towards a comet that was itself traveling at 84,000 mph. However, although the lander - known as Philae - did make a landing, it unfortunately bounced into an area of shade about 1.5km from the desired landing zone. This meant it was unable to recharge its solar batteries, and as such it could only operate with its onboard power supplies. Despite this, Philae was able to complete all its primary research objectives before running out of juice and falling into a (potentially eternal) slumber.
A Singing Comet
But, before Philae had even landed on the comet - known as 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko - the ESA had already made a rather interesting, if slightly terrifying, discovery. Back in August, Philae's mothership, Rosetta, picked up some magnetic fluctuations around the comet which were subsequently converted into sounds. ESA described it as the comet singing, and you can listen to its eerie performance below:
Now, I know what some of the space enthusiasts among you will be saying, "Hang on, in space, no one can hear you sing, so how can they record sounds?" Well, you're right. The lack of air in space means technically it is silent to the human ear. However, by using the onboard Plasma Consortium (RPC), Rosetta was able to detect vibrations in the magnetic field of the comet which were around 40 to 50 millihertz - about 10,000 times lower than the range detected by humans. By altering the frequency, ESA were able to essentially listen to the magnetic sound.
What's Causing The Sounds?
ESA isn't entirely sure what caused the odd clicking sound, and considering they detected them in August, they have only now felt confident enough to release the sounds to the public. The RPC principal investigator Karl-Heinz Glaßmeier stated in a press release:
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.
However, experts at the European Space Operations Center (ESOC) in Darmstadt, Germany do believe they've developed one credible theory.
Theory 1: 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko Has A Case of Solar Wind
The primary theory states that the sounds are made by the sun's plasma, better known as solar wind, interacting with the coma (the nebulous envelope around the nucleus of a comet) of 67P. The sounds could then be caused by neutral material shedding off the comet which is subsequently ionized by the solar wind - resulting in the clicking sound.
This isn't the first time such sounds have been recorded. Back in 2013, NASA's Voyager 1 probe became the first spacecraft to enter, and then subsequently record, interstellar space. The sounds it recorded are certainly no less creepy than the ones caught by Rosetta.
Theory 2: The Sounds Are Caused By This Guy
Ok, the inclusion of Predator was a bit of creative license on my part (although the comet's song did sound uncannily like a Predator's clicking), however there are some people out there who think ESA are covering up what could be the first encounter with alien life.
According to an email published on UFOSightingsDaily.com, Comet 67P is in fact not a comet at all, but an alien creation which is emitting radio signals. The email states:
Comet 67P is NOT a comet. Some 20 years ago Nasa began detecting radio bursts from an unknown origin out in space. It would later be known that these had likely come from the direction of the now named comet 67P. It does show signs on its outside of machine like parts and unnatural terrain.
Do not think for ONE MOMENT that a space agency would suddenly decide to spend billions of dollars to build and send a spacecraft on a 12-year journey to simply take some close-up images of a randomly picked out comet floating in space.
Personally, that sounds like exactly the kind of thing a space agency would do, since their remit is, y'know, to kind of explore space and stuff. But maybe I'm part of the cover up too?
Should we be worried? Well, there does seem to be some debate with the UFO conspiracy circles about the nature of the signal and 67P. The mysterious email - which claims to come from an ESA insider - concludes:
Whatever this object is, it did not ask to be found or scrutinized.
Commenting on the mystery, contributor Scott Waring felt like the enigmatic sounds constituted a 'first greeting' to humanity, while the landing of Philae was equivalent to a hand shake. He explains:
If it was a warning, they would not allow the ESA craft to have landed. I believe the landing of the ESA craft was the equivalent of a first handshake. They will make another move soon probably. Alien structures are on the comet. I don’t believe it’s natural.
However, Waring does accept that even an expert like himself could be wrong, Ultimately he concludes that decoding the message is of the highest priority:
Getting a copy of the full message and then translating it should be of utter importance. Is it a message of greetings? Or is it a warning of what’s to come? We, the people of the world, need to find out.
Personally. I'm with the professional, qualified space experts on this one. What about you?