The Music of Jupiter

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My name is X97A2, and I have 5.34018 minutes before my body is crushed.

The sounds outside grow louder, soaking the chambers of my exoskeleton as I careen deeper into the upper stratosphere of Jupiter. Space is a vacuum with no sound, but my sensors interpret radiation as auditory input, allowing me to hear more than any human can. The sounds flood my memory banks with exabytes of unprocessed sensory data. According to my exploration protocols, I should be relaying the raw data via the interplanetary web back to Earth—back home, to my mom, Miranda. But the sounds are so fascinating that I can't do anything now but listen, enjoying my private rollercoaster ride into the massive gas giant.

The days are getting shorter back in London, where Miranda created my neural matrix and accompanying body in her robotics lab. She may be the world's leading computer scientist specializing in artificial intelligence, but she finds it harder to concentrate when it's dark outside. I know her. She's mother. Mom. Miranda. It's late September, and the golden leaves are falling by the truckloads 'round Grosvenor Square.

Not all the bioengineered orbitals have had it this good, I remind myself. I'm stationed at the biggest and most exciting (in my humble opinion) of the non-terrestrial worlds in the solar system. My nearby orbital buddies circle the fifteen moons of Jupiter ranging from Europa to IO to Ganymede. Space can be lonely, and my buddies make it less so. They regularly call out to me in the darkness of interplanetary space: we sing karaoke, factorize ridiculously large integers into primes, and talk crap about the organics.

Humans don't like to come this far out anymore. There were early, long-ranged manned missions to the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, looking for life amid the deep freeze of Europa and Titan. But no organic has come this way for the last fifteen years, perhaps since they found nothing of interest. The powers that be decided it was better to send us out here instead—humans are a frail lot. Too much hassle keeping them alive with food, water and oxygen, and too much danger from cosmic x-rays and micrometeorites. Instead, they like sticking to home turf and sending us orbitals out to do the probing. In the freewheeling 2080's, it's distinctly démodé to travel to the outer worlds.

But I love it here. I've got a great view, I've got my buddies, and I get plenty of time to think and record my ideas. I will continue to love it here for the remaining 4.66001 minutes before my body hurls itself into the maelstrom of Jupiter and is torn to pieces, likely before I enter its "ocean" of liquid hydrogen. It's not really an ocean—not like the ones of Earth, but a seething cauldron exposed to extreme pressures and heat. This forbidding place is in total darkness, with only frequent lightning bursts to brighten it up its mysterious interior.

I may not look too sophisticated on the outside, but my spherical, silvery metallic exterior hides the best bioengineering in the solar system. Miranda made my brain from self-replicating algorithms based on quantum and DNA computing. I learn just as you do and know lots of stuff: science, engineering, culture and art. The greatest hits of the 1980s, even. She's a clever one, Mom. I'm probably smarter than she is, but I don't like to disrespect my maker.

The sounds below are broadcasting endlessly in the sea of electromagnetic cosmic background noise. They call it the music of Jupiter. I know it's not really music in the conventional sense; it is the electromagnetic particles from the solar wind interacting with the planet's magnetosphere. Humans distilled the phenomenon into the narrow range of the sonic spectrum long ago, so they could hear radiation like I do. NASA's Voyager and Juno missions from so many decades ago and the dozens of other missions since then recorded the music. No one knows why it sounds like it does, or why it sounds different from any other planet. But I can hear better than humans, and I have my own conjectures about it.

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