The MAARBLE “Sounds of Space” Musical Composition Contest

Planet Earth is a natural source of radio waves, which surround us all the time. Although most of these waves are in the acoustic frequency range, they are not audible by humans. They are electromagnetic waves and not acoustic ones. We could “hear” them if we had radio antennas instead of ears.

Radio waves can be detected by our ears if we convert them to sound waves, by using a very low frequency (VLF) receiver. A VLF receiver consists of an antenna and a radio amplifier, and it is sensitive to radio waves. After converting electromagnetic (radio) waves into acoustic (sound) waves, with the same frequency, the sounds produced by our planet can be “heard”. These sounds correspond to several types of radio emissions propagating in the Earth’s atmosphere, ionosphere and magnetosphere. The way these waves sound, when played through an audio system, defines their name: sferics, tweeks, whistlers, chorus, and hiss. We also call them “Earth Songs”.

The MAARBLE contest of musical composition combines scientific and artistic ways of thinking, i.e. the Art of Music and Space Science. The musical contest is an original idea to provide scientific information to the public, inviting people to “feel” the science and to think about art.

The MAARBLE project invites composers from all EU countries, USA and Canada, to take part in the MAARBLE musical contest. The leading concept is to use the natural sounds of the Earth’s magnetosphere in order to compose electroacoustic music. The relevant Notes for Guidance and the Application Form are available below.

Notes for Guidance - Terms and Conditions

Application form



We are pleased to announce the successful completion of the MAARBLE Musical Composition Contest. The contest was oversubscribed by a factor of 19 (we received in total 55 applications from 17 countries).

The Selection Committee* met on June 14 for the judging of applications and was very pleased with the overall quality of the submitted compositions, which made the selection of winners a very difficult task.

The Selection Committee concluded on the ten highest ranked (including the three winning) compositions of the Musical Composition Contest as follows:

First Prize (award of 1500 €): “Breathing Underwater” by Otto Wanke (Czech Republic)

Second Prize (award of 750 €): “Picnic in the lonosphere” by Antonio J. Cebrian (Spain)

Third Prize (award of 500 €): “Golden Waves” by Susan Ann Brewster (UK/USA)






Otto Wanke

Breathing Underwater

Czech Republic


Antonio J. Cebrian

Picnic in the lonosphere



Susan Ann Brewster

Golden Waves



David Snow

Das Lied von der Magnetosphäre



Dimitris Maronidis

SonoSferics for Tape



Kalle Vainio

Silent Travellers



Elias Kotzias




Damon Alexander Bailey

Of Space and Earth



Maria-Luisa Acuña

Shooting Star



Bruno Misonne

Solar Storm


The three winning compositions were officially presented on Tuesday, 16 September 2014, during the international conference "Geospace revisited: a Cluster/MAARBLE/Van Allen Probes Conference" in Rhodes island, Greece.

AWARD CEREMONY - Rodon Municipal Theater

MAARBLE Outreach Team

*The Selection Committee comprises musicians and physicists as follows:
Anastasios Anastasiadis, PhD, Solar physicist, Leader of MAARBLE Dissemination and Outreach, Research Director at the National Observatory of Athens
Eleni Chatzichristou, PhD, Astrophysicist, Outreach officer of the MAARBLE project, Director of Education & Development at the College of Rhodes
Ioannis A. Daglis, PhD, Space physicist, Coordinator of the MAARBLE project, Professor of the University of Athens
Nickos Harizanos, MMus, Composer, General Secretary of the Contemporary Music Research Centre, Athens
Costas Mantzoros, Composer, Contemporary Music Research Center, Athens
George Palamiotis, Musician, bass artist, composer, Athens
Costas Papadoukas, Musicologist (DEA Paris IV), film composer and orchestrator, Paris


Samples and descriptions of characteristic space sounds



The shortcut for “atmospherics” because they are emitted by lighting strokes. They propagate great distances round the Earth bouncing between Earth’s surface and the ionosphere, from 90km above the ground to thousands of kilometers in altitude. Their dynamic spectra are characterized by vertical lines indicating the simultaneous arrival of all radio frequencies.

Sample of audio file here:




Are sferics that travel farther. Their dynamic spectra illustrates that high frequencies arrive first, followed by the lower ones. The sound they produce is characterized by the non simultaneous arrival of the frequencies they consist of.




They originate from thunderstorms or meteorites, or after earthquakes. They propagate at great distances between ground sources and various points in the ionosphere and overlying magnetosphere. They are much more dispersed than the tweeks. They interact with plasma particles in the radiation belts.

whistler graph


Whistler that propagated along geomagnetic-field-aligned paths from a lightning flash in the northern
hemisphere to Palmer Station, Antarctica (by the Stanford VLF group)





Dawn Chorus

Chorus waves are generated near the magnetic equator outside the plasmasphere, occur over a broad frequency range, from hundreds of Hz up to several kHz  and sound like birds singing when played through an audio converter. They interact with high energy electrons in the radiation belts and accelerate them during geomagnetic storms. The accelerated electrons can become dangerous for both satellites (since they can damage electronic equipment) and astronauts. For this reason they are called “killer electrons”. Chorus emissions are observed over a wide range of local times, having a peak near local dawn. Chorus intensity increases during magnetospheric substorms, periods during which the aurora is observed in high latitudes.

Credit: ESA



Plasmaspheric hiss are low-frequency radio waves. Electrons in the outer radiation belt can extract energy from chorus waves to reach near-light speed and become dangerous for human activity in near space environment. When this happens, the chorus evolves into another type of radio wave called hiss. Hiss deflects the speedy particles into Earth's upper atmosphere, where they lose energy and are absorbed when they hit atoms and molecules there.


Sample of audio file here:

Credit: University of Iowa


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Sample of sounds here: