A unique project in astronomy and music has transformed NASA spacecraft data into celestial acoustic pools in a batch of new videos.
On Wednesday (March 24), NASA released three videos, produced in collaboration with the Chandra X-ray Center (CXC) and the SYSTEM Sounds science outreach program.
The videos combine light data from the Hubble Space Telescope, observations made by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and other spacecraft, and present them with unique and stunning audio and video.
In the videos, you can hear a subtle, bright and gentle audio interpretation of Chandra Deep Field South, the Cat’s Eye Nebula series and the friction frequencies of the Whirlpool Galaxy, or Messier 51, as it is known.
The video project was directed by visualization scientist Kimberly Arcand at the Chandra X-ray Center, astrophysicist Matt Russo, and musician Andrew Santaguida of SYSTEM Sounds.
Light is composed of electromagnetic waves, which do not need a medium to travel: this is why light from distant stars can reach the Earth and travel through the void of space. On the other hand, sound consists of mechanical waves, which means that it needs to travel through a substance, such as water or gas, to announce itself.
Although sound may not literally be able to reach human ears from these distant celestial bodies, converting data into sound can alert the brain to relationships between different wavelengths on the electromagnetic spectrum by using musical separators to represent differences or similarities in the data. The creators of this project highlight different elements in each video.
The Chandra Deep Field South is the deepest image captured in an X-ray, and the colored dots represent the galaxies or supermassive black holes that live in the centers of galaxies. The full range of X-ray wavelengths found in this field is enormous, so to photograph them, the scientists used red for low-energy X-rays, green for medium-power and blue for high-energy X-rays.
These sounds take the one-dimensional color field and transform it into a virtual experience where the sound transmits active variations.
“It’s being played like sound … the full range of data can be experienced,” NASA officials wrote in a press release describing the videos.
Stereo mode for sounds also helps the viewer to know if the pitch matches the color on the left or right side of the image.
A feeling of “flying through space” comes from a data sonication video made from the Cat’s Eye Nebula. This is because the sound in this video shows what is happening at different distances from the center of the spectacular nebula.
“The highs and lows of sound that can be heard are caused by scanning the radar that passes through the explosions and beams in the nebula,” NASA officials wrote.
The X-ray data from Chandra were imaged using what NASA described as a “tougher” sound.
The discordant sounds from the sonication of data for Messier 51, depict observations from Hubble, Chandra, NASA’s former infrared space telescope and former space agency GALEX’s ultraviolet telescope.