Planetary Radio • Jan 13, 2021

A Symphony for 7 Moons

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Amanda lee falkenberg portrait

Amanda Lee Falkenberg

Composer of The Moons Symphony

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Linda Spilker

Voyager Mission Project Scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory

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Nicole Stott

Astronaut, aquanaut and artist

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Bruce Betts

Chief Scientist / LightSail Program Manager for The Planetary Society

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Mat Kaplan

Senior Communications Adviser and former Host of Planetary Radio for The Planetary Society

Composer Amanda Lee Falkenberg has created The Moons Symphony. You’ll hear excerpts from each of its 7 movements. They are inspired by and evoke 7 of our solar system’s smaller, unique worlds. Joining Amanda are her advisors and friends, artist and International Space Station astronaut Nicole Stott and Cassini mission project scientist Linda Spilker. Bruce Betts arrives with a new space trivia question based on a visitor to one of these moons.

The Solar System's Major Moons
The Solar System's Major Moons The Solar System contains 18 or 19 natural satellites of planets that are large enough for self-gravity to make them round. (Why the uncertain number? Neptune’s moon Proteus is on the edge.) They are shown here to scale with each other. Two of them are larger than Mercury; seven are larger than Pluto and Eris. If they were not orbiting planets, many of these worlds would be called “planets,” and scientists who study them are called “planetary scientists.”Image: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Montage by Emily Lakdawalla. The Moon: Gari Arrillaga. Processing by Ted Stryk, Gordan Ugarkovic, Emily Lakdawalla, and Jason Perry.
Amanda Lee Falkenberg portrait
Amanda Lee Falkenberg portrait Amanda Lee Falkenberg is an Australian born composer and pianist.

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Imagine if the Huygens probe had landed on Earth at the same latitude and longitude at which it landed on Titan. It would have come down in an ocean. Name one of the islands or island groups closest to its splashdown.

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What is the approximate mass of the NEA Scout solar sail?


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Question from the 30 December space trivia contest:

How many crewed launches to space were there in 2020?


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Mat Kaplan: A symphony for seven moons and all of us who watch them in wonder, this week on Planetary Radio.

Mat Kaplan: Welcome, I'm Mat Kaplan of the Planetary Society, with more of the human adventure across our solar system and beyond. I think we have the perfect show for all of us who want to leave our troubles behind for an hour or so. You've heard two of my guests before, a few months ago, astronaut Nicole Stott and Cassini mission Project Scientist, Linda Spilker, introduced me to the work of Amanda Lee Falkenberg.

Mat Kaplan: I have been looking forward to welcoming all three of them ever since. We will talk about Amanda's magnificent composition called The Moons Symphony, and we'll hear excerpts from all seven of its movements. Each is inspired by one of those small and unique worlds that beckon to us from across the solar system.

Mat Kaplan: We'll save a few minutes for some fun with the chief scientist of the Planetary Society. Bruce Betts looks to a moon of Saturn for this week's space trivia quiz. We begin with headlines from the January 8th edition of The Downlink, our newsletter of the cosmos. It is topped this week by a gorgeous false color image of Saturn's north pole snapped in 2013 by Cassini.

Mat Kaplan: The European Space Agency's, ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, has been circling the Red Planet since 2016. It has yet to find even a whiff of methane down below, that's in spite of the Curiosity rover occasionally detecting some curiouser and curiouser. It has been nearly two years since Israel SpaceIL attempted to land Beresheet 1 on the moon. Now we've learned that they will try again. Beresheet 2 is expected to make the trip in 2024.

Mat Kaplan: It didn't make it into The Downlink yet, but we've learned that NASA will perform the last test firing of the Space Launch Systems core stage on Saturday, January 16th. The SLS must pass this critical step if it is to make its first flight late this year.

Mat Kaplan: A special announcement now, are you a passionate science writer or editor with a few years of professional experience? You want to work for the Planetary Society and share the passion, beauty, and joy of space? We're searching for a great person who will be our new associate editor. You'll find the job description on our website if you search for associate editor.

Mat Kaplan: And another thing, we've just learned that our distribution partner for Planetary Radio is moving us to a different hosting service next week. We hope this transition will be completely transparent to everyone listening, but you never know. Remember that you can always find us at and wish us luck.

Mat Kaplan: Last announcement, I promise. Casey Dreier and I are finally ready to bring you the January Space Policy Edition. It's not that things in Washington, D.C. have settled down, not yet anyway, but we couldn't see delay in this month's episode by yet another week. You'll hear it on Friday, January 15th. By the way, we're grateful to all our listeners outside the U.S. for your good wishes.

Mat Kaplan: Here's my recent online conversation with Linda Spilker, Nicole Stott, and Australian born composer, Amanda Lee Falkenberg. I hope you'll agree that it is one of the finest and most inspiring segments in the history of Planetary Radio.

Mat Kaplan: Linda Spilker and Nicole Stott, welcome back to Planetary Radio, it wouldn't have been enough to have you two past, very distinguished, guests return to the show together. A scientist who has now served as project scientist for one of the most successful and thrilling missions of exploration for more than 10 years, and an engineer who lived in space for well over three months, now an accomplished artist. Welcome back, both of you.

Nicole Stott: Thank you.

Linda Spilker: It's a pleasure to be here, Mat, thanks.

Mat Kaplan: Nicole, we're not alone, would you please introduce our guest of honor.

Nicole Stott: I would love to. And this is one of those small world things, I think that's just serendipitously I think, Mat, as you used the word with us before, has come together. I will just say that Amanda Lee Falkenberg is one of the most talented, thoughtful, creative, amazing women I've ever met, very fortunate to call her a dear friend. And to shorten it up a little bit, stunning composer.

Nicole Stott: I don't know all the details behind Amanda's education or really a lot of the other productions she's done before, but I can tell you what we're going to talk about today has been life changing for me from the standpoint of music, and science, and hope for the world really coming together. So I'm very excited for you and for all of the listeners to learn more about Amanda.

Mat Kaplan: Amanda, I bet you have no complaints about that introduction.

Amanda Lee Falkenberg: Very, very generous words from Nicole. And thank you, Nicole, for that really sweet introduction. And I'm just as thrilled to be here. I would just like to say that I'm delighted that, finally, Linda and Nicole get to meet because actually this radio show that as to it because we were scheduled to meet in Abbey Road Studios in December last year. And I was very excited about that possibility but it looks like this radio interviews brought that to us. So, yes, so privileged to be here, for sure.

Mat Kaplan: Well, welcome. It is wonderful to have you on Planetary Radio for the first time, which I can't say about your two accomplices who have joined us today. Your accomplishments as a composer, a conductor, musician, they really stretch over many, many years, they've earned you international recognition and awards. And now this symphony that has won praise across these overlapping worlds of art and science, we're going to hear excerpts from all seven movements of the symphony. But let's begin with where did the inspiration for this work come from? How does one begin to create a symphony?

Amanda Lee Falkenberg: And it's very interesting you say that because in reflection, looking back over these last three years, and I stand here looking at the project, the size that it is right now, and this is so multifaceted and so many elements to it. And it'd be so easy to think that people might assume that three years ago I had this map all laid out and all the elements were beautifully sort of realized back then.

Amanda Lee Falkenberg: But the plain and simple truth is that it started so organically and so simply. I trace it back to 2017, and I was almost finished writing my 10-minute piano concerto called Crossing of the Crescent Moon. And I was about eight minutes of my way into it and I thought, "You know what, I'm just going to research the ancient symbolism of crescent moons." And about two hours into my research, I stumbled across this website that said, 10 of the weirdest moons of our solar system. And I felt like a bolt of lightning just went through my system, I had so much excitement seeing this collection of moons.

Amanda Lee Falkenberg: I was on my iPad, I was just staring at them, and the first feeling that came to me was these moons need music. And directly after that, the next feeling that came to me was these moons need a motion. Being a film composer, I'm well aware of what happens when you team up music with stories, it just elevates it to a whole new level. And so here I'm looking at these moons going, oh my goodness, they're just locked in this vacuum of space. And I kind of just wanted to break them free from this. And I thought, "Wow, if I teamed them up with music, that might help amplify their stories even more so other people could enjoy them." And that's really how it all started. And it was such an incentive to finish my piano concerto which I did two weeks later. And that was the beginning of my moons project back then.

Mat Kaplan: You obviously based a lot of this on things that we've learned about these moons only in the last few years, at most decades. And I'm thinking of, well, two of the movements inspired by moons of Saturn, perhaps the ones that have gotten the most press, Titan and Enceladus, which, Linda Spilker, your mission has revealed so much about to us. You really took, it seems, Amanda, the best science and added these voices to it.

Amanda Lee Falkenberg: That's exactly right. And it was about a month into my research when I just decided to commit to this moons project. And it was just music back then, and then I quickly realized that there was an opportunity I did not want to miss out on when I started looking at the characteristics and, like you said, the science. And I'm like, "Oh my goodness, imagine if I employed the forces of a choir to sing the science and the characteristics of these moons, wouldn't that just give my project so much more substance, and relevance, and more of an outreach?"

Amanda Lee Falkenberg: So that's when I really started getting quite interested in science and the scientists and I wanted to try and locate a scientist who I could consult with to anchor my facts and accuracy. And that's really how like Linda and I came into each other's orbits through and other scientists I met in that journey.

Mat Kaplan: Linda, I just want to hear what it means to you as somebody who has spent so much of her life studying these moons and the planets about which they revolve to hear them expressed in this other medium. How has it affected you and along with the opportunity to work with Amanda on this?

Linda Spilker: For me, listening to Amanda's music and also the visuals that go with it, it's almost gives me a sense of what would it be like if I could actually be standing on the surface of one of these moons or up very close? And to hear that music, the music that's custom-made, if you will, for each of these moons describing their characteristics and sort of the feelings that are evoked from them, in particular thinking about Enceladus, and the geysers coming out of the South Pole and hearing the swell of music that goes with it.

Linda Spilker: A giant Titan, this huge moon in the Saturn system with likes of liquid methane. So I was very excited to hear about Amanda's music. In fact, we first met when I was introduced to Amanda through Bob Pappalardo, the Europa Clipper project scientist. And Amanda reached out to me via email, and she had just given a TED talk, and she sent me a link to it. And I listened to her talk and watched her, and I was hooked.

Linda Spilker: And after that, I invited her to come to the final Cassini project science group meeting, that was in July of 2018, and to share her movements with that group of scientists, and they were very impressed by her work.

Mat Kaplan: Amanda, you have built quite a fan club, anybody who goes to your website, and we have a link to it on this week's show page, at If you want to get there directly, it's, there are lots and lots of great resources there. But it also has these endorsements, this praise from not just Nicole, but lots of other astronauts, a photo of you standing with several of them including friend of Planetary Radio, Leland Melvin and Nicole, but also scientists like Bob Pappalardo, and others. Obviously, whatever you have tried to communicate with this symphony has been pretty effective even with those people who have both been up there and have sent their robots out to study these worlds.

Amanda Lee Falkenberg: I'm really taken aback actually because as artists, that's all we ever want to do is have our music, our creations resonate with as many people as possible, but you never know what sort of outcome your art is going to produce. And to have these reactions, it's just so pleasing and satisfying that it's just come from layers and layers of inspiration. It's so interesting to me because I look at all this science that these scientists have collected, the stories in this symphony wouldn't be possible without them. And so it's this virtuous circle that I find he's going on.

Amanda Lee Falkenberg: And so I'm just as thrilled about them and their work, and I should be writing them reviews really. And here they are commenting in such kind and generous ways about this symphony. It's very satisfying.

Mat Kaplan: Definitely a mutual admiration society. Composing any symphony, composing The Moon Symphony was monumental in itself, but that was hardly the end of your efforts. How did the process of sharing it with the world begin? And what's the current status?

Amanda Lee Falkenberg: It's interesting because even before I had written a note of music, I had this vision, I still have this vision of world premieres in Royal Albert Hall, and Walt Disney Concert Hall, it just would not leave me. Fortunately, we have recruited the magnificent musical brilliance of conductor, Marin Alsop, to be the captain of this musical spaceship, as I like to call it. And we are thoroughly overjoyed by having her cache associated with this project.

Amanda Lee Falkenberg: So we are currently putting together initial plans about a global world tour to share the message with the world. And so obviously, in the middle of this pandemic to try and progress this symphony is challenging, as you can imagine. But Mat, you know what, I trust in this whole process, as Nicole and Linda will vouch, this symphony has taken on a life of its own. And I really believe that it's just luck with so much fortune and I trust that whatever path is planned for it, it will be a beautiful path.

Amanda Lee Falkenberg: And I'm sort of so grateful for even how far it's come in three years. So I'm just as equally, not so much confident, but I just trust that it's evolution, it will evolve and in a very natural and organic way.

Mat Kaplan: So what is it that we can hear on your website because the symphony can be heard there?

Amanda Lee Falkenberg: Well, yes, and I'm very thankful for technology because what people will hear is not a real life orchestra at all. It's a synthesized orchestral library that I've used to emulate the idea of a real orchestra and, fortunately, that technology is excellent these days. However, the choir, as Nicole will vouch, the choir samples are not so good. And for a very long time, I had a very fake choir singing the science to syllables that no one would understand. I call it the moon language.

Amanda Lee Falkenberg: But anyway, this happened during COVID, actually. I hired 12 voices from the London Voices to independently sing the choir parts to make sure all of that was working as intended. And so what you're currently hearing on the website is the fake orchestra, but with real voices. However, you're not hearing the voices mixed as a rich ensemble, it's impossible to do this during COVID right now. But hopefully, it gives a little bit of an impression and at least the lyrics can be understood.

Mat Kaplan: I think it's lovely, perhaps that's a measure of my lack of sophistication, but I think it's absolutely marvelous. And then there are these photos, and I believe some video, of you working with the choir, including a young man who we will hear in the last movement that looks to Earth's own moon. Who is that young guy that you recruited?

Amanda Lee Falkenberg: That is Joshua Abrons, and he has the voice of an angel. And again, that came about very serendipitously a couple of summers ago. We recorded the two soloists, there's a very powerful tenor voice, also, at the end. My very good friend, Daniel Cook, from [inaudible 00:16:25] those two voices were just the most magical elements for that seventh movement, which I will describe in more detail later.

Amanda Lee Falkenberg: But I was so grateful to get to record them because what I did once I had the top voices from the London Voices, the choral elements, I then just layered the soloist that I'd recorded a year before that overtop of it. So it's just a bit of patched together in this pandemic. But I think and hope it gives the best to emulate what the real stage version is going to be, hopefully 200 voices on stage.

Mat Kaplan: I think you did an outstanding job considering these limitations.

Linda Spilker: Mat, this is Linda, let me just add that when I first saw and listened to the 7th Movement, it was just such a wonderful feeling. It brought me back to the memories of watching that Apollo landing on the moon, and it really was very humbling also to listen and watch, and bring back these incredible memories and see just how small the earth is, as seen from the moon.

Mat Kaplan: Let's not keep people in suspense any longer. There's much more that we need to say about what can be found on the website and about what's ahead. But I think it's time for us to hear the first of these movements, which begins with a bang on that wild moon of Jupiter that we call Io. Why did you decide to start there on that volcanic massive chaos?

Amanda Lee Falkenberg: Well, I wanted to begin with a blast, Mat, honestly. And what better moon to start off with that concept. Hey, this moon just got such incredible history dating right back to the Voyager missions. Such a scintillating moon. This first excerpt, which I've titled Celestial Tug of War, derives its inspiration from the fact that Io is in this unique orbital resonance with companion moons, Europa and Ganymede.

Amanda Lee Falkenberg: And so this tug of war situation results from Europa and Ganymede pulling Io in one direction. Meanwhile, the almighty Jupiter's yanking Io back in the other. And so it's this brutal choreographic ballet is how Io is changed as elliptical orbit and responsible for this runaway tidal heating, dramatically expressed in the form of hundreds of exploding volcanoes and lava seas.

Amanda Lee Falkenberg: So the lyrics took inspiration from the idea of this celestial battlefield taking place in the Jovian system, which is literally ripping Io apart. And the orchestral landscape had to be as dramatic and powerful to emulate Jupiter's ruling dominance and to help capture the volcanic scenes of chaos on Io, who takes the full brunt of this orbital resonance.

Mat Kaplan: Linda, did Amanda with that description pass the science quiz as well as the musical one?

Linda Spilker: Oh, she absolutely did, Mat. Io is such an incredible world and so beautiful in all of its colors as well, clearly torn by, as Amanda said, these hundreds of volcanoes erupting on its surface.

Mat Kaplan: Well note, Linda, of course, that you were on the Voyager mission before you moved to Cassini, all those years ago. The Voyager mission that first revealed the wonders of this world. Let's go ahead and listen to that excerpt.

Mat Kaplan: (singing).

Mat Kaplan: Just a few moments from that first movement of The Moons Symphony, Io, but we have a second excerpt from that same movement. Amanda, introduce this one for us.

Amanda Lee Falkenberg: The Loki Patera volcano is a very persistent and prominent horseshoe like feature on Io, and it's even bigger than Lake Ontario. And what impressed me the most about a Loki Patera is its volcanic behavior. It's nothing like you'll ever see on earth. And it's a fascinating process. And it was described to me as this massive crescent lava sea and, over time, a crossed forms. And once it reaches critical thickness, it sinks back into the magma, whereby the sea resurfaces like a giant windshield wiper by this foundering crust. And this process continues time and time again. So I figured with the volcano being such a prominent and powerful part of my Io story, I knew it had to be a very special feature in this first movement.

Mat Kaplan: What a lovely description, and here is Loki Patera from that first movement of The Moon Symphony.

Mat Kaplan: (singing)

Mat Kaplan: Absolutely lovely, wonderful. I don't know what else to say about it, except it's just an example of how beautiful this entire symphony is. Let's go on to the second movement, which is literally a move from fire to ice. Linda, we already mentioned your friend and colleague there at JPL, Bob Pappalardo, who is the science lead for the Europa Clipper mission, which we hope sometime later in this decade will be taking us back to Europa. Could you say a few words about this other moon of Jupiter.

Linda Spilker: Yes, Europa is a very fascinating world. It's just a little bit smaller than the Earth's moon. And it has a very smooth, very young surface with fractures and cracks on it. And we believe that there's a liquid water ocean underneath Europa's icy crust. And perhaps in this ocean, there might be the conditions that are right for life. So with missions going back to Europa is to look in more detail, how thick is that icy crust? Are there plumes like we have coming from Enceladus coming out of Europa? And can we sample those and see if we might find the key ingredients for life on this icy world.

Mat Kaplan: Amanda set us up for this short excerpt from the second movement.

Amanda Lee Falkenberg: I just want to start by saying what's so exciting about talking about this moon is exactly this NASA flagship mission, the Europa Clipper. It is such a compelling moon and, like Linda said, the tantalizing evidence to support this idea that there's this global subsurface ocean underneath what they think is a 20 kilometer ice crust. If this mission isn't riveting enough, I know that there's also discussions about a follow up mission that's potentially going to send a lander.

Amanda Lee Falkenberg: And my hope, and I'm sure I'm not alone in this, is that I hope one of the instruments could be something like an ice probe that could penetrate this ice shell. And so I painted this idea into this next musical excerpts, so you'll hear what I call the penetration of this ice crust towards the end of this next excerpt. You'll hear high trumpets hold a high chord with a dramatic roll from timpani, which is followed by rich sustained strings that signals that we've reached the bottom of this 20 kilometer ice crust and ready to explore the exhilarating possibilities of Europa's oceanic world, which may contain microbial life.

Amanda Lee Falkenberg: (singing).

Mat Kaplan: Just a taste of that second movement of The Moon Symphony, Europa ice probe from the lander that so many of us hope will reach that moon someday. We jump now to a neighbor of Europa, Titan, that moon, which was so mysterious for so long, and thanks to Cassini, Linda has begun to reveal its mysteries. I should say Cassini and Huygens, which is really part of the focus of this next movement of the symphony. Tell us a little bit about Titan, as if our audience has not heard quite a bit about it from you in the past, and about Huygens.

Linda Spilker: Titan is about the size of the planet Mercury. As Voyager flew by Titan in the early 1980s, we just saw a smog covered atmosphere, couldn't see through to the surface. Titan has a thick dense nitrogen atmosphere and liquid methane plays the role of liquid water. So it can rain liquid methane, form clouds, the methane fills lakes and seas. And so Cassini carried the Huygens probe to parachute to the surface of Titan, landing softly, taking our first images of this very intriguing world and revealing the surface for the first time. And seeing rounded icy pebbles telling us that indeed liquid, in this case liquid methane, float on the surface of Titan.

Mat Kaplan: Amanda, both of these excerpts that you've provided are focused on that portion of the Cassini Huygens mission, the descent down to the surface of this moon and what it was able to show us.

Amanda Lee Falkenberg: Yeah, that has really captured my imagination, the whole drama of that. And that's what this movement is all about. This next excerpt, I've called Huygens Conquers Titan. And it happens after the seven year journey together. It was with the Cassini spacecraft. But this next excerpt follows the story of the Huygens space probes grandest assignment, which was, as Linda said, to conquer Titan's thick stubborn atmosphere to reveal the secret well below that's been tantalizing scientists for decades.

Amanda Lee Falkenberg: So the musical passage begins with the high drama as we anticipate Huygens dramatic descent piercing through Titan's infamous orange clouds. And the music is very uplifting and fanfare like accompanying the brave Huygens on his journey while excitement continues to brew as we hold our breath, wondering what the treasures Huygens will find below Titan's dense haze.

Amanda Lee Falkenberg: (singing)

Mat Kaplan: Again, just a brief excerpt, if you want to hear more you can visit Amanda's website, which as I said, we have a link on this week's show page at Much more of composer Amanda Lee Falkenberg, astronaut and artists Nicole Stott, and Cassini Project Scientist, Linda Spilker is moments away.

Mat Kaplan: You'll also hear more beautiful excerpts from The Moons Symphony. This is Planetary Radio. The next little excerpt that we have is also from this third movement, focusing on Titan. And it's that inevitable end of the Huygens mission. Amanda, tell us about this.

Amanda Lee Falkenberg: Yes, so this next excerpt is called Huygens Battery's Dying. We are at the end of the movement, and Huygens has carried out his heroic duties. He's parachuted through the clouds, 2 hours and 27 minutes taking photos, completes the perfect touchdown performing the most distance spacecraft landing in history. But now his battery's dying.

Amanda Lee Falkenberg: So I took a few artistic liberties with this ending because Huygens incredible accomplishments got me thinking a bit because I felt Huygen might find himself a bit annoyed by his situation. So the closing musical atmosphere is quite robotic in tone, imitating the robots have some graphs and that is heard by bass clarinet. As if Huygens is trying to say to the scientists, "You've got to be kidding me. You're seriously going to leave me here to rust, after all I've been through?" And then you'll hear a gentle strum from harp, as if to respond saying, "Yes, but your legacy lives on."

Mat Kaplan: Farewell, and thank you, Huygens. I'm going to pause here, a little past the halfway point through these excerpts, and ask you, Nicole, certainly not the first time you are hearing this beautiful music, does it still affect you as somebody, the only one among us who's actually been at least a couple of 100 miles toward these moons that we're listening to captured in music?

Nicole Stott: Yeah, I don't think it ever will stop impressing. And I'm so happy that we're having this little journey through the excerpts of each of the movements. I think there's just this, really and all of them, this kind of other worldly feel to them, the music itself and the lyrics that come from it. And I really and truly cannot wait for people to experience this as the compilation with the science based artwork and video that will go along with it. Just kind of every sense it will be impacted.

Nicole Stott: And when you travel to space, even just a couple 100 miles above the planet, that's what's happening to you, every sense is being impacted in some way as you experience Earth from that vantage point, at least. These movements lead up to the 7th Earth movement, where it brings it all back to Earth. I think all the work that like Linda and the other scientists are doing too, regardless of where we go out in this really amazing universe, I think about that Cassini image with a little dot of light below the rings, and it's all about us finding our place in it. And that's what this music does for me, too. Brings it back to our home planet, and really gives you the sense of who and where we are in this space together.

Mat Kaplan: Does it give you a little bit of a sense of what we have come to know as the overview effect, which was all about looking down on our home planet, but maybe giving us that for these other worlds?

Nicole Stott: I would say, absolutely. And I think all of you have spoken to other astronauts as well, and I think all of us will tell you that. Now, we highly recommend the view of Earth through those spaceship windows, I will not deny that. But that experience, that sense of who and where we are this overwhelming understanding of the interconnectivity of it all, I don't think you have to go travel on a spaceship and look out the window to see that.

Nicole Stott: These images from Cassini and the others and now with Amanda's stunning music to pull it all together, these are the kinds of things that bring that feeling, just that sense to us without having to travel to space. And I am always now, it's the all in wonder of it all. We need to have our hearts and our minds open to that all in wonder that surrounds us. And then when it can be heightened in this way through this compilation of music like I've never heard before, I think it's just a wonderful experience that everyone should have.

Mat Kaplan: The phrase that we always use on this show is stolen from our boss at the Planetary Society, the PB&J, the passion, beauty, and joy of space exploration.

Nicole Stott: I think in listening to Amanda's music and seeing the images return from all of these spacecraft, what it does for me is it opens up our broader home, the solar system, and starts to bring a familiarity to us for these different worlds and these different places. And I can almost imagine maybe someday we'll go to these worlds, set foot on them, and learn to understand them, perhaps even live on some of them, as we continue to understand our home in the broader sense, the solar system.

Nicole Stott: And I can't help but imagine, what would it be like if we go back to time and go back and look at the Huygens probe, go back and perhaps even retrieve it? Will we find this tiny probe coated in a ice of methane ice? What will it be like? How well will it have survived and weathered? It's time on Titan.

Mat Kaplan: Linda, there is another world out there circling Saturn, which I know is very near and dear to you, and that you would like to see us visit. And that's Enceladus, which is the inspiration for the fourth movement of The Moon Symphony, give us a minute or two about that moon and then, Amanda, we'll turn to you for how it affected you and how it inspired this music.

Linda Spilker: Enceladus is much smaller than Europa, a tiny world. And yet it's bright, white and icy. And Cassini discovered that underneath Enceladus' icy crust, there's a liquid water ocean, and that the South polar actually jets and geysers of water vapor and water ice particle shooting into space. And Cassini was able to fly through and taste and sample the material coming from these jets, and actually found not only water, but all sorts of other hydrocarbons and the key ingredients for life.

Linda Spilker: So that the ingredients are there. And now the question is, did life form in that subsurface ocean of Enceladus? And so yes, I'd really love to see a mission to go back to continue the exploration that Cassini started, perhaps fly through the plume, bring back a sample, maybe even land on the surface of Enceladus to understand this world just a bit better.

Mat Kaplan: Amanda?

Linda Spilker: Yes, so this next musical sequence is all about romance, the romantic view of being offered by this tiny moon Enceladus. So the music takes its inspiration from experiencing Enceladus' rows and rows and rows of towering fountains of misty water vapor crawling the night sky. And honestly, if that wasn't breathtaking enough, you imagine showstoppers, Saturn, hugely suspended in the backdrop to accompany this gorgeous scene.

Linda Spilker: And just to think that these events are even taking place in the solar system right now, this isn't pulled from some sort of sci-fi movie. And I think this just makes it even more emotionally stirring to think about what Linda and her team have returned about this moon's stunning story.

Mat Kaplan: Amanda, if you ever decide to give up composition, I think we'll have a job for you as a writer at the Planetary Society.

Amanda Lee Falkenberg: You are too kind. I do want to add one little fun fact if I may, and I just had forgotten about this. But tomorrow marks the third birthday of Linda's music for moon Enceladus. I made an oath I wanted to finish it three years ago. It was one of the second moons I composed and so we have a little birthday coming up with this moon's music tomorrow, as an actual fact. So I just thought I'd share that as well.

Linda Spilker: Oh, that's wonderful, Amanda. Thank you.

Mat Kaplan: Here is that very brief excerpt from Enceladus gigantic geysers.

Mat Kaplan: (singing)

Mat Kaplan: All waiting for us out there. Let's reluctantly leave Saturn and head further out in the solar system to Uranus, and a moon there, which is also very intriguing but we haven't had the opportunity to learn as much about. Linda, introduce us to Miranda.

Linda Spilker: Miranda is one of the smaller uranium moons and it's in close to the planet, so only been visited once by a spacecraft. And that was by Voyager in 1986. It's a very interesting world. It has this cliff, 20 kilometers high on this tiny world. It also has fractures and very interesting geology. And so it's an intriguing tiny world and be very interesting to go back. We only saw one side of it with Voyager. And so I wonder what mysteries the other side might hold.

Mat Kaplan: Amanda, it's your turn, introduce us to this excerpt from the 5th movement.

Amanda Lee Falkenberg: So I've called this Monolithic Site, this excerpt, and it's basically devoted to moon Miranda story. But what's really captured my imagination was that what caused the catastrophic events? How did they transpire to give her the most geological complex terrains in the entire solar system? And I know there's a couple theories floating about but one thing for sure is that Miranda is one of the innermost moons of parents planet Uranus and inner moons are subjected to ferocious impacts from incoming projectiles.

Amanda Lee Falkenberg: So the next music explores the scenarios and could explain why she looks the way she does. And in the middle of this next excerpt the music turns to Miranda's famous feature which is the Verona Rupes, which is what Linda was just talking about, which I call the monolithic site, the tallest cliff in the entire solar system.

Amanda Lee Falkenberg: And as Linda also pointed out, I couldn't believe that Voyager 2 has been the only spacecraft that's visited Miranda. So I felt her story is being so neglected to me and all the more reason I wanted to give her an emotional landscape to this world that looks like it's been burnt, beat, thrashed, and scolded, to hope to arouse compassion, empathy to what this moon has endured and it's torturous, primordial past.

Amanda Lee Falkenberg: (singing)

Mat Kaplan: Wow, a musical cliffhanger there if you will, again just an excerpt. Let's turn back toward the sun in our solar system, returning to Jupiter and the moon Ganymede, that big moon. I think it's the biggest one, isn't it, Linda?

Linda Spilker: Yes, Ganymede is the largest moon in our solar system. And it, too, has an internal ocean underneath its icy crust. And it's unique because Ganymede is the only moon in the solar system with a magnetic field much weaker than the giant magnetic field of Jupiter, but a magnetic field nonetheless. And again, interesting geology on the surface of Ganymede.

Mat Kaplan: Amanda.

Amanda Lee Falkenberg: I wanted to divide this movement into two distinct sections, I wanted to devote the first half to the phenomenal science taking place at Ganymede. But the second part of the movement, I wanted to pay tribute to the famed Italian scientists, Galileo Galilei who turned old notions of a geocentric universe upside down by his discoveries of the Galilean moons back in 1610.

Amanda Lee Falkenberg: And I was trying to find an elegant way to link these two sections, and I struck poetic luck because there's a heady scientific phenomenon called magnetic reconnection. And it's where energy and mass move between magnetic spheres and the boundaries between Ganymede and Jupiter. And not only does this word reconnection acknowledge this science, but now I'm using it to transport us back in time to reconnect with Galileo Galilei so we can marvel at his colossal discoveries.

Amanda Lee Falkenberg: So the next musical expert is very celebratory in nature as we salute Galileo Galilei, the father of modern day science and all his exceptional discoveries.

Amanda Lee Falkenberg: (singing)

Mat Kaplan: We turn now to the last movement of The Moon Symphony, the 7th movement, and it brings us essentially back home or, at least, very close to it, to our own Moon, the one that gets a capital M. Nicole, I think this has special meaning because I think of your astronaut colleagues, the lucky ones among them, who were just announced as members of the Artemis team. And among them are, as NASA likes to say, the next man and the first woman who will, we hope, step before too many years pass on the surface of the moon once again. We had Stephanie Wilson on the show just a couple of weeks ago, do you know Stephanie?

Nicole Stott: Yeah, I know Stephanie very well. And it's funny that you say that because when that whole announcement came out, she was the first one that I emailed to say that I hope she realizes she'll be packing me in her bags with her to take me with her. But yeah, she's wonderful. She gets my thumbs up, too. I would love to see her making those steps.

Nicole Stott: Mat, one thing I want to share with you that Amanda mentioned a birthday tomorrow as a an anniversary of some of the wonderful work she's been doing with Linda, and I will just say that also, as far as I understand, I think it's another birthday as well. I believe Amanda has a birthday tomorrow, too.

Mat Kaplan: No kidding.

Nicole Stott: So that's something to consider.

Amanda Lee Falkenberg: I have my birthday present right here.

Nicole Stott: Okay, all right. And I really... I'll just say that I feel like this whole thing is a gift, right? This music is, I would think a gift that Amanda is giving to humanity, quite honestly. And this Earth Moon movement, really and truly is the way, if I have to pick one thing that brought Amanda and I together, this is it.

Nicole Stott: We're both members of this group, this interesting group called the IAAA, which is the International Association of Astronomical Artists. And they have very wisely included, not just those of us who paint or draw, but music as well, and Amanda is part of that group. And I don't think we have enough time today, but let's just say we got introduced through that group by an email that was just a simple request of mine to have her bless us with the music of the Earth Moon 7th movement to celebrate the Apollo eight mission, the 50th anniversary back in 2018.

Nicole Stott: Mat, you said it, this idea of our colleagues who will be going soon again there but also the colleagues that shared that very special view with all of us, this first human vision of the earth rising over the horizon of the moon, and they didn't keep it to themselves, they let us experience that as a gift on Christmas Eve back in 1968.

Mat Kaplan: Earthrise, what a moment. Amanda, before we let you take us there musically for the last of these excerpts. I want to follow up on what Nicole was talking about, the IAAA, this group of artists. On your website, you acknowledge and have some comments from some really fine space artists, many of whom have been on the show. In fact, we featured multiple members of the IAAA, as a group in the past on Planetary Radio. That also brings me to mentioning the videos that people can see on the website. Could you say something about those?

Amanda Lee Falkenberg: I'm so pleased you brought that up. This project has been very, very charmed in so many different ways, as you're already experiencing with astronauts Nicole, and Linda, and the scientists. But I've also been equally blessed to have this visual component gifted to me, talk about gifts. Ron Miller and Ed Bell have supplied the most stunning artwork to help bring a visual element to this musical canvas. That's how I came to understand about the IAAA, it was through Ron Miller.

Amanda Lee Falkenberg: And they have been so supportive over the years and really helped catapult my project to a whole other level. And so I have so much to be thankful for. But yes, and Nicole is obviously part of that as well. I just want to quickly add, if I may and if we have time, is that Nicole's and my relationship is obviously extremely special and very sacred to me because of this project. I think it's just worth mentioning that when I started out with this moons project, I never had any intention of including a special anthem for Earth or anything like that. It was just pure means of the outer solar system.

Amanda Lee Falkenberg: And I was about four or five months into my project, and I think I'd just written music in Europa, Enceladus, Titan, I was just starting to work on Miranda. And, you know Mat, something just didn't feel right. Something felt missing. I just had this really weird feeling. And I just couldn't shake it for a couple of weeks. And it was only when I was exploring Miranda and, obviously, with it's experienced how harsh and volatile this outer edge of the solar system is, all of a sudden I just got homesick. And I found myself bringing myself back to Earth. And like, "Oh my god, it's safe here."

Amanda Lee Falkenberg: And then all of a sudden, I realized what was missing. I'm like, "Oh my gosh, we need to be looking at our Earth in this project." And I went, "Oh my goodness, let's have a movement where we're standing on Earth moon looking down at our planet, to see how it is teeming with life and what a privilege it is and what a gift it is to us to have this ability to co-create and experience this abundance." It's only through conversations that I had many with Nicole and her telling me about her emotional accounts of seeing earth, and she kind of put it out to me. She said, "Amanda, you've had your own Earthrise." She really is right.

Amanda Lee Falkenberg: And there's another part to that story, which maybe I'll save for another time. But I just thought that might be interesting to share my journey as an artist, that's how serendipitous this whole project has been. It's so organically evolved over time.

Mat Kaplan: I am so glad that you had that sense that something was missing because it resulted in... Well, we're, of course, only going to hear a small piece of it in this absolutely lovely movement about our own Moon, the one that is our longtime companion here, above our beautiful earth.

Mat Kaplan: (singing).

Mat Kaplan: Amanda you have brought me to tears and not for the first time.

Amanda Lee Falkenberg: Oh, wow. For me, this 7th movement, my only hope is I just want it to inspire the daylights out of people because I think we all need large doses of this right now. So thank you for this opportunity to share our mission and our message and to talk about our favorite subjects. Moon, Earthrise, science, music. It's been incredible.

Mat Kaplan: It really has. And I am so grateful to the three of you. Please just give us half a minute about one other element of this project because it is so much more than just the symphony, the companion guide that you are working on now.

Amanda Lee Falkenberg: In the early days of the project, I always knew I wanted it to be a strong substantial outreach element that would run in conjunction with the actual symphony. And now, of course, that the symphony is finally finished, I'm really excited to be here to start this new phase of the project because what's happened is currently all the science is sitting in the libretto in a very poetic format, which serves its purpose under this theatrical lens.

Amanda Lee Falkenberg: But now what I want to do is take it out of that, of the libretto and sort of expand on the nitty-gritty science that inspired the libretto, just in case other students wanted to learn more about the concepts or the characteristics. This video, this companion guide is going to be a direct bridge to be able to make the correlation between the librettos inspiration and the full blown science. So I'm really excited to start this series this year.

Mat Kaplan: You can read more about it and hear the symphony and follow its progress at Thank you so much for sharing this with us. I cannot wait to be sitting in the audience in front of a full orchestra and choir and enjoying The Moon Symphony. I hope with you, Nicole, and Linda, I sure hope that we're all sitting together for this.

Linda Spilker: I agree, Mat. I so look forward to that first performance.

Nicole Stott: Yes. And thank you for including me in this. And Mat, you said it about bringing tears, there's definitely the goosebumps and tears factor that goes along with this. And I can just imagine what that will feel like in the real Symphony Hall.

Linda Spilker: I think, Mat, also and just listening to that there's just, for me, a tremendous feeling of hope to look back and see our planet.

Mat Kaplan: I know exactly what you mean. I feel it to Linda. Amanda, greatest of continued success with The Moon Symphony and everything else that you are doing to bring music to this world.

Amanda Lee Falkenberg: Thank you so much for your generous time and words and it's been my absolute pleasure. And I too can't wait to be in those symphonic halls with all of you and maybe take up that idea of having a live radio session or something on stage with scientists and astronauts. I love that idea.

Mat Kaplan: I was afraid to bring that up.

Amanda Lee Falkenberg: We dream big, or we go home.

Mat Kaplan: Thank you. And may it be so. Thank you, Linda Spilker, Nicole Stott, and Amanda Lee Falkenberg for what has been a very special hour of Planetary Radio. I look forward to talking with all of you again.

Amanda Lee Falkenberg: Thank you, Mat.

Linda Spilker: Thank you, Mat.

Nicole Stott: Thank you.

Mat Kaplan: Stick around, Bruce is almost here and he has the entire solar system in his pocket.

Kate Howells: Hi, I'm Kate from the Planetary Society. For all its troubles, 2020 has still seen some terrific space accomplishments. We asked our members and supporters to vote for their 2020 favorites. You can see the results at We're talking about the best solar system image, the most exciting moment in planetary science, and much more. That's Happy holidays from the Planetary Society.

Mat Kaplan: Time for What's Up on Planetary Radio, we turn now to the chief scientist of the Planetary Society, that's Bruce Betts, who's here with lots of fun new stuff for us, I'm sure. That's just an educated guess. Hi.

Bruce Betts: That's an excellent guess. That guess will be right.

Mat Kaplan: I'm glad. Well, prove it.

Bruce Betts: We got planets, but they're tough to see except for Mars. Let's start with Mars. Mars is still looking pretty bright, looking reddish in the evening sky high up in the south. And on the 20th, the moon will be hanging out near Mars. Mars random apparent magnitude fact, Mars is right about zero apparent magnitude brightness, which is the the weird zero of the weird astronomical brightness magnitude system, which is also about the brightness of the star Vega.

Mat Kaplan: Do you know what magnitude or apparent magnitude Mars reached when it was at its brightest the other season?

Bruce Betts: I don't remember exactly to the decimal point but it was between -2 and -3. Remember in this system negatives are brighter, so it was much brighter than the brightest star Sirius, which is about -1.4ish. It is about as bright as Jupiter which tends to be in the mid -2s. So it's faded a lot.

Mat Kaplan: But still very impressive. And I will use this to add a program note that next week we'll be talking about perseverance, making it down to the surface of the red planet with somebody who's working on that right now. That's coming up. What else you got?

Bruce Betts: I also have the challenging planets to see, we have Jupiter and Saturn are very low down getting lower every day in the west shortly after sunset. Interesting, they're being joined by Mercury. And Mercury is nearby and actually higher now than they are but still low in the west for the next, probably visible for the next couple of weeks, but she'll have to look soon after sunset. Might want to bring binoculars. Don't stare at the sun with them though, please.

Bruce Betts: And in the pre dawn we've got Venus getting lower and lower in the east. So it's kind of getting lower kind of thing. Still got beautiful bright Orion hanging out in the evening in the east and south, showing us it's Northern winter, Southern summer.

Bruce Betts: We move on to this week in space history. It was a busy week, I'm just covering a few of the things that happened. In 2005, the Huygens Probe successfully went through the atmosphere of Titan and landed. 2006, New Horizons launched and Stardust returned samples from a comet. And that only scratches the surface. I don't know why, but it was a busy space week.

Mat Kaplan: Well, we move on to space factor.

Bruce Betts: I don't know. So coming back to the Huygens Probe, though it landed on solid ground on Titan, it was also designed to survive in ocean landing, which would have been a methane, ethane body of liquid, which they prepared for just in case and indeed, those were confirmed as we now know, on Titan by the Cassini spacecraft.

Mat Kaplan: That would have been cool. There was that effort to put up a boat on Titan. They were talking about that. Maybe someday it'll happen again. We'll have to settle for a flying machine in a few years.

Bruce Betts: Yeah, that'll be super cool. But if there is a boat, I'm rooting for you to be on it, Mat.

Mat Kaplan: I want to bring the water skis, the methane skis.

Bruce Betts: We'll have to look into that physics. Alright, trivia contest, I asked you how many crewed launches to space were there in 2020? How did we do, Mat?

Mat Kaplan: We got a big response probably because of the terrific prize that somebody has won, that somebody will be identified in moments. But first, here is the response from Jean Lewin in Washington, reconnaissance, communications, heliophysics and navigation, photographic satellites, rovers and aircraft to Martian sites. 100 successful launched in all, plus two in spring and two in fall. These four missions carried crew that ventured from our marble blue, half from the Cosmodrome, the other half from here at home. A little bit United States centric there, but we hope that people will forgive us for that, is he right?

Bruce Betts: Well, if he lives in the United States, then yes, definitely. Yes, there were four human launches to Soyuz and two SpaceX crewed launches.

Mat Kaplan: We heard that they were 12 humans on those four missions. We got fat from a bunch of people including Claudia Winkler in Brazil, Bert Caldwell in New York, and Eve Bedoin in British Columbia. I think I just killed his last name. Eve added that six went with SpaceX Express and six on Soyuz buses. I'm not sure those are the official names for those. But we'll go with it for now.

Mat Kaplan: Here is our winner, happens to be somebody who won almost exactly three years ago and has not had a win since, not till now anyway. It's Marcus Versarni in the UK, who said, "Yep, four different missions that carried humans up to the International Space Station across 2020." Congratulations, Marcus, you have won that time since launch, that cool TSL device from CWNT, the one where if you pull the pin, it starts counting and doesn't stop, as long as you change the batteries now and then, until it gets up to 2738 years. I wonder what occasion he'll use to pull the pin.

Bruce Betts: I do, too.

Mat Kaplan: Perry Metzger in New Hampshire, I'm not sure if you count the failed sub orbital attempt by Virgin Galactic since it didn't make it to space. But in case you do, I mentioned in it. Something similar from SM Reglue in Canada, who points out that we didn't specify the launches had to successfully get crews into space. So I don't know. What would you have thought about that?

Bruce Betts: No. Because it says how many crewed launches to space, so I rule that that would imply you actually made it to space.

Mat Kaplan: The judge's ruling is final in this case. Maya Sukup in Canada, those 12 people that really picked a great year to spend some time off planet. Kind of similar for Marine Bands in Washington, amidst all the concerning events of 2020, the news of four crewed launches to space kept us looking upward toward the stars for a brighter future. Thank you marine. Nice [crosstalk 01:09:22].

Mat Kaplan: Finally, from our poet laureate, Dave Fairchild. There were four launches of crews up to space with SpaceX and Soyuz, two each, and Virgin Galactic suborbital flight aborted before they could reach. A total of 12 made it up past the line 100 kilometer ward. So where do we sign up to join in the flights? I want to have my time on board. I couldn't agree more, Dave. We're ready to move on.

Bruce Betts: This one's a little contorted, but hopefully fun and interesting. So back to Huygens, if Huygens landed on Earth at the same latitude, so to speak, as it landed on Titan, same latitude and longitude, it would have landed in an ocean, just like it was designed for sort of except it would have been water. In that case, if that happened, name one of the closest islands or island groups to its splashdown. They're a bunch of islands and different names, so I'll be fairly flexible if you got one of the answers. Go to

Mat Kaplan: You are an evil genius. You have until the 20th, that would be the 20th of January at 8:00 AM, Pacific time, a Wednesday, to answer this one. And it's been a little while, how about a Planetary Radio t-shirt?

Bruce Betts: Yes.

Mat Kaplan: We've got some other stuff but those are ever popular. A Planetary Radio t-shirt for the person chosen by this time who comes up with those islands. We're done here. Aloha.

Bruce Betts: All right, everybody, go out there, look up the night sky and think about relaxing on a small island when an alien spacecraft comes parachuting through the atmosphere and lands in the ocean nearby. Thank you, and good night.

Mat Kaplan: Be sure to wear a sweater. He's Bruce Betts, the chief scientist of the Planetary Society. He joins us every week here for What's Up. Planetary Radio is produced by the Planetary Society in Pasadena, California, and is made possible by its members who love the music of the spheres. Join the chorus at Mark Hilverda is our associate producer. Josh Doyle composed our theme, which is arranged and performed by Peter Schlosser. Ad astra.