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NASA's Cassini gets farewell soundtrack by Saturn itself

NASA's veteran spacecraft is riding into the sunset and providing its own fireworks. A few astrophysicists decided to provide the music.

NASA's Cassini spacecraft is dive-bombing Saturn Friday to bring its epic mission studying Saturn to a fiery end. To send the bus-sized probe off in style, a group of astrophysicists created the perfect soundtrack for the spacecraft's dramatic demise -- by converting the gravitational tugs of the system Cassini has explored for over a decade into music

Researchers at the University of Toronto converted the orbital resonances within Saturn's system into a musical harmony. The repeating pulls occur when the different moons and other objects orbiting the planet exert rhythmic pulls on each other in passing. The tugs help keep the entire system locked in a pattern, much like the beat underlying a piece of music repeats. The video above illustrates the concept.

"Wherever there is resonance there is music, and no other place in the solar system is more packed with resonances than Saturn," postdoctoral researcher Matt Russo said in a statement.  

In addition to the pull of Saturn's moons, the team also used the orbital motion of trillions of small particles that make up the planet's rings to create the above musical notes and rhythms.

"Saturn's magnificent rings act like a sounding board that launches waves at locations that harmonize with the planet's many moons, and some pairs of moons are themselves locked in resonances," said fellow University of Toronto astrophysicist Dan Tamayo.

The resulting music follows Cassini's final dive into oblivion by using the frequencies of Saturn's six largest inner moons shifted into human hearing range to lay down a beat. 

Next, the music takes us along on the ride over Saturn's rings, with the increasing orbital frequencies of the rings providing a rising pitch until one last piano chord signals the end of a very long road for Cassini.

It's not quite the grand orchestral swell you'd expect from a big Hollywood finale, but it is a fitting end for a robot that was never really about the drama. Hats off again to the scientists who always manage to find something wondrous or beautiful in all that data.

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