NASA has figured out what space sounds like.
The space agency has created several videos of what two supernovas* and a colliding cluster of galaxies “sound” like, thanks to its data sonification program.
Data sonification is the use of sounds such as musical notes to represent pieces of information.
The Bullet Cluster, a cluster of galaxies 3.7 billion light-years from Earth that provided the first evidence of dark matter, can be seen via gravitational lensing in one video.
Gravitational lensing is the bending of light by gravity as it goes past massive objects in space.
NASA assigned each layer of data a specific frequency range. In sound, frequency determines pitch, such as whether a sound or musical note has a high pitch or low pitch.
NASA wrote on its website: “Data showing dark matter are represented by the lowest frequencies, while X-rays are assigned to the highest frequencies. The galaxies in the image revealed by Hubble data, many of which are in the cluster, are in mid-range frequencies. “Then, within each layer, the pitch is set to increase from the bottom of the image to the top so that objects towards the top produce higher tones.”
NASA has visualised what supernovas and colliding galaxies ‘sound’ like
The Chandra X-ray Observatory, which has been looking at far-off galaxies for nearly a generation, helped in the production of this video (below) of the Crab Nebula*, which was first discovered in 1054.
The rotation of the nebula and its strong magnetic field, which “generates jets of matter and antimatter flowing away from its poles,” were translated into different wavelengths*, each paired with a different family of instrument. The shorter the wavelength, the higher the frequency (and pitch) of that sound. In other words, short waves sound high; long waves sound low.
“X-rays from Chandra (blue and white) are brass, optical light data from Hubble (purple) are strings, and infra-red data from Spitzer (pink) can be heard in the woodwinds,” NASA added. “In each case, light received towards the top of the image is played as higher pitched notes and brighter light is played louder.”
Crab Nebula Sonification
The third video (below) shows the visualisation of a supernova* explosion known as Supernova 1987A, discovered in 1987.
Supernova 1987A, which is approximately 168,000 light-years from Earth, “was one of the brightest supernova explosions in centuries,” NASA explained.
The time-lapse video shows observations taken between 1999 and 2013, with the Chandra X-ray Observatory indicated by the blue and the Hubble indicated in orange and red.
“This shows a dense ring of gas, which was ejected by the star before it went supernova, begins to glow brighter as the supernova shockwave passes through,” NASA continued.
“As the focus sweeps around the image, the data are converted into the sound of a crystal singing bowl, with brighter light being heard as higher and louder notes. The optical data are converted to a higher range of notes than the X-ray data so both wavelengths of light can be heard simultaneously*.”
An interactive version of this video lets the user play this astronomical instrument for themselves.
Supernova 1987A Sonification
This story was first published on The Sun and is republished with permission.
- supernovas: plural of supernova, explosion of a star
- nebula: giant cloud of dust and gas in space
- wavelengths: the length measurements of waves of energy, such as light or sound
- supernova: explosion of a star
- simultaneously: at the same time
- Which space agency did this work?
- What did they do?
- How far away from Earth is the Bullet Cluster?
- What is the Bullet Cluster?
- When was Supernova 1987A discovered?
LISTEN TO THIS STORY
1. Music to Represent Information
NASA has used musical notes to represent what different galaxies sound like by assigning different notes and musical instruments to different pieces of information.
Work with a friend and brainstorm what other types of information you could represent using musical instruments.
Choose the idea you like the most and give an example of how this may work and what it may sound like. You may be able to use real instruments or just explain the sounds.
Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: Music, Critical and creative thinking
Watch and listen to the NASA videos from the Kids News article and write a list of points as to what the different sounds and instruments represent.
Time: allow 10 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Music
Read with Kung Fu Punctuation
Pair up with the article between you and stand up to make it easy to demonstrate your Kung Fu Punctuation.
Practice reading one sentence at a time. Now read it again, while acting out the punctuation as you read.
Read and act 3 sentences before swapping with your partner.
Have 2 turns each.
Now as a challenge ask your partner to read a sentence out loud while you try and act out the punctuation. Can you keep up?
Try acting out 2 sentences.
Are you laughing yet?
Have fun acting out your punctuation.
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