Sounds of Space

Would you like to “hear” data from space? You can, through the NASA sonification project. You can now hear data from as far as 50 million light years away.

Space is mostly quiet. Data collected by telescopes is most often turned into silent charts, plots, and images. A “sonification” project led by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and NASA’s Universe of Learning program transforms otherwise inaudible data from some of the world’s most powerful telescopes into sound. This effort makes it possible to experience data from cosmic sources with a different sense: hearing.

In addition to the Chandra link above, other sites with information include NASA’S and EarthSky. Results have been released since 2020. On September 16, 2021 there were three more releases.

Westerlund 2 is 20,000 light years away. A beautiful nebula, shown in the image above, is found in this region where stars are forming. What we hear are data of image brightness and position, converted into sound.

Tycho’s supernova remnant is 13,000 light years away: SN 1572 is a remnant of a supernova studied by Tycho Brahe in the 16th century. The sounds (and colors in the image) represent elements of iron, silicon, and sulfur.

SN 1572 Tycho’s supernova remnant, X-ray image by Chandra Observatory, courtesy NASA.

Would you like to hear a black hole? The black hole in M87 is 50 million light years away.

This data shows that the black hole in M87 is sending out massive jets of energetic particles that interact with vast clouds of hot gas that surround it. To translate the X-rays and radio waves into sound, the image is scanned beginning at the 3 o’clock position and sweeping clockwise like a radar. Light farther from the center is heard as higher pitched while brighter light is louder. The radio data are lower pitched than the X-rays, corresponding to their frequency ranges in the electromagnetic spectrum. The point-like sources in X-ray light, most of which represent stars in orbit around a black hole or neutron star, are played as short, plucked sounds.

Enjoy these beautiful sights and sounds of our universe!