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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Mars Music

Air Date: Week of

The data collected from the 2001 Mars Odyssey Mission actually makes for beautiful music, according to Marty Quinn. The computer scientist and drummer used a computer program to turn mission data into music.


GELLERMAN: Well scientists aren’t the only ones fascinated with the red planet. Musicians, from Holtz to Ziggy Stardust, have made music to honor the planet.

Marty Quinn, a drummer and computer scientist, was inspired by the 2001 Mars Odyssey Orbiter Mission, and used data collected from its gamma ray spectrometer and neutron data collector to create this piece, simply called “Mars.”

[MUSIC: Marty Quinn, “Mars” music available at www.drsrl.com]

QUINN: The gamma ray spectrometer on the Mars Odyssey spacecraft – it had a big boom off the spacecraft, and it was looking down at the planet. And those gamma rays are caused by cosmic rays hitting the planet’s surface, bouncing around within the planet and then some of them bounce out again. And because of what they hit in the planet’s surface, the scientists can tell ‘Oh, hey, there’s water there.’

So, the gamma ray spectrometer became – in particular became the melody, and then the neutron data collector was collecting three kinds of neutrons that emanate from the surface also, that give the scientists other information, and us, about the carbon dioxide ice that is on the surface at different seasons.

Those were represented by three patterns of music: one was a slow bass pluck; one was a beautiful string pattern in the middle of a keyboard; and then at the high register we had a very fast piano. And the data controlled the volume of those patterns.

So its just like a person, you know, everybody has a certain sound to them as they walk or as they speak, so it’s a very natural metaphor that I used in this case.

The phoenix is landing at an area on Mars that is representative of my favorite music on Mars, which is the northern polar area, and I’m not surprised, because it represents a place on Mars where there’s a lot of variation from winter into summer, where the ice is quite prominent during the winter, but then it quickly melts and exposes the ground and therefore exposes the water underneath. I’m a drummer at heart, and I’m a musician and composer at heart, so I want the data to be expressive just like music is expressive.

GELLERMAN: Musician Marty Quinn composed this tune using data from the 2001 Mars Odyssey Mission, supplied by John Keller from the lunar and planetary lab at the University of Arizona.

Our stories about Mars were produced with the help of Annie Jia and Jeff Turton.



Marty Quinn

Click here to hear a longer version of Mars music


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