Hear black holes and galaxies transformed into sound from NASA data

This composition of the Cat’s Eye Nebula uses data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Hubble Space Telescope.

X-ray: NASA / CXC / SAO; Optical: NASA / STScI

In space, no one can hear you screaming, but on Earth we have ways to turn space objects into a haunting soundtrack. Galaxies, black holes and nebulae come to life through sound, giving us a new way of interacting with the cosmos. A team of scientists translated the data collected by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and other space telescopes into sound using a process called data sonication. Also involved is musician Andrew Santaguida of System Sounds, a science and art project.

On Wednesday, NASA released new audio recordings that allow us to listen to observations of the deep Chandra field, the Cat’s Eye Nebula, and the Vortex Galaxy. All three have distinctly different sonic personalities, ranging from light and ethereal to almost creepy.

The southern deep field of Chandra – a deep view of the southern hemisphere of the sky – is located at the lighter end of the sound spectrum. “This is the deepest X-ray image ever, representing more than seven million seconds of Chandra’s observation time,” NASA said in a statement Wednesday.

Data sonication Deep Field South has the feel of the 80s poppy sci-fi sound. The dots in the image represent mostly black holes and galaxies. “The wide range of music frequencies represents the entire range of X-ray frequencies collected by Chandra from this region,” NASA said.

The Cat’s Eye Nebula has always been an observer, especially when combining data from Chandra and the Hubble Space Telescope. “To listen to this data, there is a radar scan moving clockwise emerging from the center point to create pitch,” NASA said. “The light farther from the center sounds like higher tones, while the stronger light is louder.”

The cat’s eye comes out like a happier version of the Vangelis soundtrack from Blade Runner.

The third sonication of the data is about the Messier 51, more popularly known as the Whirlpool Galaxy because of the swirling view from Earth of its spiral arms. “The radius is mapped to the notes of the melodic molar scale. Each wavelength of light in the image obtained by NASA’s telescopes in space (infrared, optical, ultraviolet and X-ray) is assigned to different frequency bands,” said NASA.

There’s a lot more tension in the sonic landscape for Messier 51. He could settle right into the horror movie scene as the character explores the haunted house.

Data sonication techniques were used to translate a The rise of Mars i the sun into the sound. The latest Chandra audio releases are part of an ongoing project that makes space telescope data available in every way possible.

Our experience of the cosmos does not have to be limited to visual elements. The universe is just as beautiful and creepy when we take the time to listen to it.

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