NASA sonification videos reveal the sounds of famous cosmic objects
A new NASA release has converted astronomy data into sounds, allowing the listener to hear musical compositions derived from the structure of the cosmos itself. The process, which the agency describes as "sonification," takes key data points in images such as galaxies, stars or clouds of cosmic gas and assigns them sounds that vary depending on their location and other factors.
The new videos include audio representations of the Bullet Cluster, the Crab Nebula and finally a strange supernova remnant designated Supernova 1987A (SN 87A).
The data used to make the sonification of the Bullet Cluster was collected by the Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Hubble Space Telescope. This vast cosmic structure is famous for being the yielding the first direct proof of dark matter.
While observations made by Hubble are often captured in optical section of the electromagnet spectrum, meaning that it’s visible to the naked human eye, Chandra has been designed to capture light that exists in the X-ray part of the spectrum, which would be invisible to us.
Thankfully, in its releases, NASA assigns this ordinarily invisible light a color that we can comprehend. In this case, the Chandra data is colored pink. This has the dual effect of allowing the viewer to visualize the data via a stunning still image.
Now NASA has gone one step further, and allowed us to hear it, too. Data that indicates the dark matter properties of the two colliding galaxy clusters that make up the image are represented with the lowest frequency tones, while X-rays are represented in higher frequencies.
To add variety to the cosmic symphony, the pitch of the sounds increases depending on the data’s position, with points nearer the top sounding higher than those near the bottom of the image.
At the heart of the Crab Nebula lies a spinning neutron star, which is all that remains of a once massive stellar body following its demise in a dramatic supernova explosion. The material cast off during its dying phase is what makes up the surrounding gaseous nebula. Powerful winds are known to surge outward from the equator of the neutron star, while jets of matter and antimatter pour out from the polar regions, spurred on by its rotation and potent magnetic properties.
Hubble, Chandra and data from the Spitzer space telescope was combined to create this striking image.
For its sonification, a different group of instruments was assigned to each of the different wavelengths. String instruments were applied to the purple optical light Hubble data, while brass instruments were given to the white and blue Chandra X-ray data. Finally, Spintzers infrared contribution, seen in pink, can be heard as woodwinds.
The final sonification is a time-lapse audio representation of a shock wave that formed and rippled through a mass of cast-off material in the wake of another violent supernova explosion known as 1987A. The piece is comprised of data collected between 1999 and 2013 by the Chandra and Hubble space telescopes.
The circle of cast-off gas can be seen gradually brightening as the shock wave expands. The Hubble data is shown in shades of red and orange while the X-ray observations of Chandra are blue.
Instead of the sonification panning left to right, the audio representation instead tracks the pronounced debris ring.