Oct. 20 (UPI) -- What does it sound like when solar storms collide with Earth's magnetosphere? Students in London are helping scientists find out.
Earth's magnetic field features a near-constant cacophony of low-frequency sound waves -- too low-pitched to be discernible to the human ear. But by speeding up audio recordings of the magnetosphere, researchers at London's Queen Mary University made the sound wave audible.
A group of 12 students at Eltham Hill School in south east London helped scientists identify sound wave patterns that lowered in pitch over the course of several days. Scientists identified a connection between the wave patterns and electromagnetic disturbances that occur in the wake of a coronal mass ejection, or solar storm.
The new research, published this week in the journal Space Weather, suggests these disturbances -- and their sonic effects -- are more common than previously thought.
"The findings could transform the field, enabling more members of the public to contribute to research just by listening to data and finding things that scientists might have missed," Martin Archer, space physicist at Queen Mary's School of Physics and Astronomy, said in a news release. "We hope that this becomes more widespread since we are living in the age of big data."
While low-frequency waves can be recorded and studied using special recording devices and computers, translating the data for interpretation through human ears enabled scientists to gain a fresh perspective and uncover a previously ignored phenomenon.
The research suggests scientists have been ignoring a novel mechanism for energy transfer between the sun and Earth.
"Making data audible is uncommon and when done so is typically used only by the researchers themselves. Involving the public in undertaking research, known as citizen science, tends to focus on crowdsourcing data or analysis unlike this more explorative method," Archer said. "However, the study shows that useful and unexpected scientific results can come from this combined approach."
Scientists hope followup studies will help them better understand the nature of the electromagnetic disturbances that produce the sonic patterns identified by students.