Sophie Kastner is a musical composer who has translated the inaudible into music, transforming nuanced data emanating from the heart of our Milky Way into the notes of a dissonant symphony.
“It’s like writing a fictional story based largely on true events,” she said in a statement. declaration.
His work, “Where Parallel Lines Converge”, is based on a specific portrait of the central region of our galaxy, aptly known as the Galactic Center. Physically seeing this image can be a little disorienting. That’s it captured in a variety of wavelengths of light – X-rays, infrared and optical – by several powerful deep space imagers – NASA’s Chandra, Hubble and Spitzer telescopes. As such, there are tons of random swirls and stripes representing impressive entities in the area, like glowing bubbles of gas and luminous starbursts, thick hyphens of dust, and bright stellar nurseries.
So instead of trying to make a sonic sense of it 2009 composite image in its entirety, Kastner decided to focus on three key elements. The first is a double star system revealed in X-ray wavelengths, indicated by a bright blue orb to the left of the image; the second is the group of arched filaments that we see; and the third is the biggest of all: the supermassive black hole Sagittarius A* that hides in the heart of our Milky Way. “I wanted to draw the listener’s attention to smaller events within a larger data set,” Kastner said in a statement. overview of the composition.
But let me back up a little. You may be wondering: what does this translation really mean? How can telescopic data be transformed into the soundtrack of the universe itself? Well, as the saying goes: “In space, no one can hear you scream.”
Someone can, however, observe and interpret your scream.
Related: The James Webb Space Telescope could soon solve the mysteries at the heart of the Milky Way
In a way, sound waves can be thought of as vibrations that propagate through atoms and molecules floating in the air. About Earth, there are many different things in our air – the waves associated with a knock on your door, for example, can travel through the air from your home to your ears. But in space there is no “air”. It’s a vacuum.
If you screamed in space, the sound waves you would create would have nothing to vibrate against, in fact, so someone just a few feet away from you wouldn’t hear you. Even if the Galactic Center was filled with incredible noises, we wouldn’t be able to hear them unless there were enough surrounding atoms for these sound waves to propagate. And most of the time, when it comes to space objects, there aren’t enough atoms.
The “sonification project” at NASA Chandra The X-Ray Center is an organization dedicated to overcoming this obstacle, with the aim of introducing another human sense into space exploration.
Just as scientists take data from X-ray telescopes, captured at wavelengths invisible to human eyes, and translate it into visible forms we can admire, the sonification project takes that data and turns it into sounds we can hear. The organization has already done this with a solid number of space marvels, like the supernova remnant Cassiopeia Aa group of galaxies known as Stephan Quintet and the Carina Nebula as seen by the pioneer James Webb Space Telescope.
Sonification efforts like these are particularly praised by the scientific community because “hearing” an image of deep space can allow visually impaired space enthusiasts to establish a deeper connection with what lies in the far reaches of space.
To be clear, none of the music associated with the aforementioned images is made with sounds literally recorded in space. They are audio interpretations of data, just as JWST images are optical interpretations of infrared signals.
“In some ways, this is just another way for humans to interact with the night sky, just as they have throughout recorded history,” Kimberly Arcand, Chandra visualization scientist and emerging technology scientist, said in the statement. “We are using different tools, but the concept of taking inspiration from the skies to make art remains the same.”
Such an interpretation is precisely what Kastner has done with his new composition, truly converging the parallel lines of science and music – and the piece’s score is actually available online for anyone to try.
“I like to think of it as creating little vignettes of the data and approaching it almost as if I were writing a soundtrack to the image,” Kastner said. “I wanted to draw listeners’ attention to smaller events in the larger data set.”
As for what we’re hearing exactly, Kastner’s song is divided into three parts “played” from left to right. “The light from objects located at the top of the image is heard in higher tones, while the intensity of the light controls the volume,” says the sonification team. “Compact stars and sources are converted into individual notes, while extensive clouds of gas and dust produce an evolving drone.”
The song’s crescendo happens when the composition reaches the bright region in the lower right corner of the image. This is where Sgr A* resides and where the clouds of gas and dust shine most brightly.
“I approached the form from a different perspective than the original sonifications: instead of scanning the image horizontally and treating the x-axis as time, I focused on small sections of the image creating little vignettes corresponding to these occurrences, approaching the piece as if I were writing a soundtrack to accompany the image,” said Kastner. A more detailed outline of the composer’s notes can be found here.
This doesn’t mean, however, that scientists have never tried to improve upon the literal waves captured in space. Remember how the general lack of air in space means there isn’t much for sound waves to vibrate? Well, sometimes there are things that can propagate these vibrations.
Last year, for example, scientists determined that a Black Hole at the Perseus cluster it was surrounded by enough gas that the pressure waves sent from the void created a signature detectable by our instruments.
“A galaxy cluster… has large amounts of gas that surround hundreds or even thousands of galaxies within it, providing a medium for sound waves to travel,” NASA scientists said.
The resulting ripples were translated into an actual musical note, but unfortunately the note was 57 octaves below middle C. This is too low for the human ear to perceive. Thus, the team resynthesized the signals for the range of human hearing, 57 and 58 octaves above. This is 144 quadrillion and 288 quadrillion times greater than its original frequency.
It sounded exactly how you would expect a black hole to sound.