By Marina Koren
In Gustav Holst’s “The Planets,” a sweeping, seven-part composition inspired by Earth’s neighbors in the solar system, the song of Saturn begins softly, with the gentle hum of flutes. The melody, solemn and nostalgic, marches slowly forward. Then the woodwinds subside, and there’s an explosion of sound, a frenzy of horns and clanging bells. Melancholy seems to morph into menace. The roar is brief, and the movement returns to its opening softness, closing on the dreamy whisper of violins.
The movement, first performed in late 1918, is enchanting and unsettling at the same time—just like the real music around Saturn.
And by music, I mean these noises from the space between Saturn and its icy moon Enceladus.
The source of this ethereal chorus is the movement of plasma waves between Saturn and Enceladus, recorded by the Cassini spacecraft and then converted into sound the human ear can register.
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