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By Scott Sullivan

Editor

I am starting a series called Physics Made Easy for students who have zero interest in it. Lessons will lessen your knowledge; you can thank me later. Part one:

 

Alien Birds

If you think space is void, you’re full of it. An Iowa physicist who monitors radio waves in the vacuum around Earth, then converts them to sound files, says space sounds like chirping crickets. His wife disagrees, saying it sounds like alien birds.

This confirms my hypothesis that all we perceive merely mirrors persons who perceive it.

Were we to trek (Your spaceship or mine?) into one of our planet’s Van Allen Belts — where energetic particles from the sun get trapped instead of streaming through the atmosphere and bombarding us — we might hear ourselves.

That’s assuming we’re armed with EMFISIS (short for Electric and Magnetic Field Instrument Suite and Integrated Science), which make these waves audible to our ears. Then they turn into sonic Rohrshachs. Instead of the abstract inkblots shrinks ask us to interpret, these waves become aural self-echo chambers.

“What do you hear?” I asked my wife.

“I hear you asking me what I hear,” she said.

“Here,” I said. “I forgot to give you the EMFISIS. The device has two sensors: a tri-axial fluxgate magnetometer and tri-axial AC magnetic search coil magnetometer.”

“Do I get night-vision goggles, a three-way decoder ring and more virtual-reality gizmos to make my life even less real?”

“They’re not available in cereal boxes,” I said. “At least yet. So what do you hear?

“Nothing.”

“Crickets? Alien birds?

“Zippo.”

“Damn! I forgot we’re not in the Van Allen Belt! It’s been a long day; I could use a Van Allen Belt …”

WHAM!

“I was thinking more like a drink,” I said when I came to and peered through my broken glasses. “Hey, my world’s different. So that’s how Picasso discovered Cubism …”

“Huh?”

“His wife broke his glasses. Another wife broke his heart, ergo the Blue Period.”

“What about when he realized he had no business being married?”

“Surrealism.”

“Where’s the nearest Van Allen Belt?”

“There are two,” I said. “One on each side of Earth’s rotational and magnetic axes.”

“Earth has axes to grind?”

“Plural of “axis,’” I said. “For access we need to fly 500 to 58,000 kilometers above the surface at which region radiation levels vary. Electrons and protons tucked in the Belts zip back and forth between Earth’s magnetic poles instead of streaming through the atmosphere to destroy us.”

“Nice.”

“But it’s nasty in there. The trapped, highly-charged particles pose a threat to satellites and astronauts, plus can cause space storms that fry power grids on the ground.”

“Sounds like a children’s bounce party.”

“… or local board meetings. EMFISIS equips us to make sonic sense of this.”

“Except we all hear it differently.”

“Wrong; we hear the same things/ It’s how we interpret them that’s different. Say two people see Donald Trump. One thinks he’s a president.”

“You’re the other?”

“Or our kid takes a landscape painting class. Did you know the sky over Ox-Bow is pink?”

“At sunrise and sunset? Sure.”

“The class is mid-day. It was white and overcast the first day and blue the second. The other students all painted it blue. She said she liked pink better.”

“This disturbs me.”

“What about the physicist’s wife?” I asked. “How can she know what alien birds sound like if she’s not been to another planet?”

“Maybe her husband took her there?”

“Writers are more highly charged than physicists,” I boasted.

“Maybe she learned from TV? Or movies?”

“From soundtracks made up by earthlings? Come on, this is science. Do you think it’s a dream?” I asked.