Science & Technology

Stellar rumen, galaxy, black hole

  • As part of a data sonification project, astronomical data from three new objects has been converted to voice.
  • Chandra Deepfield, Cat’s Eye Planetary Nebula, and Whirlpool Galaxy are the latest objects to transform data into sound.
  • Data is from Chandra X-ray Observatory and others NASA Space telescope.
  • Data sonification allows users to not only hear but see information from objects in space.

This latest installment in the Data Sonification series features three diverse space scenes. Astronomical data collected by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and other telescopes is converted to sound, respectively. Data sonification maps data from these space-based telescopes into a format that users can see and hear, embodying the data in a new format without changing the original content.

Chandra Deepfield

This is the deepest X-ray image ever taken and represents Chandra’s observation time of over 7 million seconds. Astronomers call this area “Chandra Deepfield South” because of this, and because the observed field is in the Southern Hemisphere. At first glance, this image may look like a star view. Rather, almost all of these different colored dots are black holes or galaxies. Most of the former are supermassive black holes in the center of the galaxy. In this data sonification, the color determines the tone as the bar moves from the bottom to the top of the image. More specifically, the color towards the red end of the rainbow is heard as bass, and the color towards purple is assigned to the higher color. Light that looks pure white in an image is heard as white noise. The wide range of music frequencies represents the entire range of X-ray frequencies collected by Chandra in the region. In visual color images, this wide frequency range of x-rays had to be compressed and displayed as red, green, and blue on low, medium, and high energy x-rays. It will be played as a sound, but you can experience all the data. When the piece is scanned upwards, the stereo position of the sound helps to distinguish the source position from left to right.

Cat’s Eye Nebula

When a sun-like star begins to run out of helium to burn, it blows away a huge cloud of gas and dust. These explosions can form spectacular structures, such as those found in the Cat’s Eye Nebula. This image of Cat’s Eye shows an X-ray from Chandra near the center, Hubble Space Telescope, This shows a series of bubbles emitted by the stars over time. To hear this data, there is a radar-like scan that moves clockwise from the center point to generate pitch. Light far from the center is heard as treble, and bright light is louder. X-rays are represented by a more jarring sound, and visible light data sounds smoother. The circular ring is interrupted by some sounds from the spokes in the data, producing a constant hum. The audible pitch rises and falls are due to radar scans passing through the nebula shells and jets.

Messiah 51

The Messiah 51 (M51) is well known as the nickname for the whirlpool galaxy because it faces the Earth and allows you to see the spiral arms that are rolled up. This gives the telescope here a view of another spiral galaxy similar to ours. Milky Way, Its structure cannot be observed directly from its position. Like Cat’s Eye, sonification starts at the top and moves clockwise and radially around the image. The radius maps to melodic minor notes. Each wavelength of light (infrared, optics, ultraviolet, and X-ray) in an image taken from a NASA telescope in space is assigned to a different frequency range. The sequence begins with sounds from all four types of light, but then moves data from Spitzer, Hubble, GALEX, and Chandra individually. At wavelengths where the spiral arm is prominent, the pitch creeps upward as the spiral moves away from the core. You will hear a constant low hum associated with a bright core, interrupted by a short sound from a compact light source in the galaxy.

These sonifications of Deepfield, Cat’s Eye, and Whirlpool Galaxy were led by the Chandra X-ray Center (CXC). The collaboration was driven by visualization scientist Dr. Kimberly Arkand (CXC), astrophysicist Dr. Matt Russo, and musician Andrew Santa Gida (both from the SYSTEM Sound project).

Stellar rumen, galaxy, black hole Stellar rumen, galaxy, black hole

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