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Spacecraft tunes in to the music of Jupiter

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Image of Jupiter obtained December 13 by the Cassini spacecraft  

(CNN) -- NASA's Cassini space probe is listening to an eerie melody as it approaches the giant planet Jupiter. (Audio Listen )

The robot ship is picking up low-radio frequency patterns that, when converted to audible waves, suggest the faint strains of some alien folk tune.

But these signals aren't signs of extraterrestrial life. The waves happen as the solar wind, a thin gas of charged particles that streams from the sun, crashes into the powerful magnetic field enveloping Jupiter.

The energy of the resulting bow shock likely creates the electronic wave oscillations, according to NASA scientists.

Jupiter's boisterous bow shock resembles the sonic boom from supersonic jet airplanes as they break the sound barrier above Earth.

Cassini picked up the space "sounds" at a distance of 23 million km (14 million miles) from Jupiter on December 8.

Artist's concept of the Cassini spacecraft  

The probe will fly to within 10 million km (6.2 million miles) of the gas giant in late December, conducting joint planetary studies along the way with another satellite in the neighborhood, Galileo. The latter NASA probe has orbited the Jupiter system for five years.

Cassini will receive a gravity boost from Jupiter on a journey to the Saturn system, which it is scheduled to reach in 2004.

Cassini and Galileo are managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.



RELATED STORIES:
Jupiter turns blue before in-depth exam
December 15, 2000
Listen to the sound of falling meteors
December 13, 2000
Jupiter's Red Spot stares down Io in new flyby pics
December 12, 2000
Space probe films cloud dance on Jupiter
November 21, 2000

RELATED SITES:
Cassini Information
Cassini Now
NASA
Galileo Project
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory


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