Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Scream if you want, no one can hear

In 1979 the director Ridley Scott released one of the most iconic science fiction horror films ever, introducing monsters with acid for blood and the tendency to pupate inside a human body. The film was of course Alien and was the beginning of a number of sequels and recently a prequel.

The tagline for this film was memorable; 'In space no one can hear you scream'. This relates to the fact that sound needs to travel through some kind of medium. Space being a near vacuum lacks particles which are required to transfer the longitudinal waves.

Most people will probably remember their school physics lesson where a ringing electric bell is placed inside a large bell jar. As the air is removed from the glass jar the ringing of the bell gets quieter and quieter. This demonstration is quite effective.

However, up until now no one as actually tested this idea in space itself. If you scream in space could you be heard? It's a difficult experiment to do as exposing a person directly to the vacuum of space would only end badly, so the experiment needs to be conducted more creatively.

Two days ago an experiment, led by Cambridge University, was launched upon a rocket that will finally test this quiet premise. On board the rocket is a satellite and in that satellite is a mobile phone. In the mobile phone is a SD card and on that card, electronically stored, are videos of members of the general public screaming.

The methodology of the experiment involves the phone playing the videos of the screams whilst simultaneously recording the audio and taking pictures of the Earth from orbit.

The recorded data will then be beamed back to Earth and it will be analysed to discover if the sound had actually been recorded. If it has then maybe, just maybe in space someone could hear you scream.


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