Wondering what to get that geeky astronomy buff you're dating for Valentine's Day? How about a newly available DVD featuring breathtaking images of Saturn's rings set to an original piece of music? The music in question is the 10-minute-long "Anillos" ("rings" in Spanish), composed by Grammy-nominated Cornell University music professor Roberto Sierra in 2008 for the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society's Division for Planetary Sciences.
This recording was made in 2008 at Cornell's Bailey Hall by the Cornell Symphony Orchestra. The video images come from NASA's Cassini-Huygens mission currently orbiting Saturn. And 17th century astronomer and musician Christian Huygens provided inspiration to the composer from beyond the grave: Sierra read several of his essays while composing the piece. Check out a sample of the music here. If you like what you're hearing, you can buy the "Anillos" DVD from Buffalo Street Books for $15, just by emailing email@example.com.
This isn't the first time a composer has been inspired by Saturn: the sounds of Saturn are inspiring, too. Diehard Alien fans are scratching their heads and pondering, "But I thought in space, no one could hear you scream?" Technically, this is correct: sound needs a medium through which to propagate, and there isn't much of one in deep space, which is about as close to a cold, dark perfect vacuum as you can get. But there's some fine print. Poke around between the planets and other celestial bodies, and you'll find plasma (hot ionized gas), i.e., in the atmospheres of Venus, Mars, and Saturn's moon Titan, not to mention Ganymede, one of the moons of Jupiter. Plasma gas is thinner (by a lot) than the Earth's atmosphere, but it's just dense enough to allow sound waves to propagate.