There are those of us who, when presented with dueling starships in a movie or television show, always make the same objection: there’s no sound in outer space. In the short film above, this valid if aggravatingly pedantic charge is confirmed by Lori Glaze, Director of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate’s Planetary Science Division. “Sound requires molecules,” she says. “You have to be able to move molecules with the sound waves, and without the molecules, the sound just doesn’t move.” Space has as few as ten atoms per cubic meter; our atmosphere, by contrast, has more ten trillion trillion — that’s “trillion trillion” with two Ts.
No wonder Earth can be such an infernal racket. But as every schoolchild knows, the rest of solar system as a whole is hardly empty. In twenty minutes, the The Sounds of Space takes us on a tour of the planets from Mercury out to Pluto and even Saturn’s moon of Titan, not just visualizing their sights but, if you like, auralizing their sounds.
These include real recordings, like those of Venusian winds captured by the Soviet lander Venera 14 in 1981. Most, however, are scientifically informed constructions of more speculative phenomenon: a “Mercuryquake,” for instance, or a “Methanofall” on Titan.
A collaboration between filmmaker John D. Boswell (also known as Melodysheep) and Twenty Thousand Hertz, a podcast about “the stories behind the world’s most recognizable and interesting sounds,” The Sounds of Space was recently featured at Aeon. That site recommends viewing the film “as an exploration of the physics of sound, and the science of how we’ve evolved to receive sound waves right here on Earth.” However you frame it, you’ll hear plenty of sounds the likes of which you’ve never heard before, as well as the voices of Earthlings highly knowledgable in these matters: Glaze’s, but also those of NASA Planetary Astronomer Keith Noll and Research Astrophysicist Scott Guzewich. And as a bonus, you’ll be prepared to critique the sonic realism of the next battle you see staged on the surface of Mars.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.