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What Do Black Holes Sound Like? NASA's Chandra Telescope Has Sonified Sounds of the Universe

Image credits: Chandra Deep Field South/YouTube.

Image credits: Chandra Deep Field South/YouTube.

The first of these sonic data images is of the region which NASA astronomers identify as Chandra Deep Field South.

The sound of music, the sound of oceans and the wind, the sound of birds, humans, traffic — we know these well enough. But what does the universe sound like? The logical part of you would immediately react, ‘it sounds like nothing!’ because space is a vacuum and no sound can travel through there. While technically correct, modern technology can make the most improbable be possible. Using the process of data sonification, NASA is turning dry, lifeless data from black holes, galaxies, and stars into soulful music. NASA has turned three very diverse cosmic pictures into sounds. The data obtained by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and other telescopes was used for this beautiful project. Those used to seeing these beautiful images obtained by NASA and their various array of telescopes can now have multiple sensory involvements by listening to the data as well.

The first of these sonic data images is of the region which NASA astronomers identify as Chandra Deep Field South. “This is the deepest image ever taken in X-rays, representing over seven million seconds of Chandra observing time,” NASA wrote on their website. The colourful dots on the screen are actually black holes or galaxies. Some are supermassive black holes at the centres of galaxies. Each colour is denoted with a note — reds are low tones, purples are higher. White light is just white noise. Using various frequencies, the full range of the region as observed by Chandra X-Rays can be understood. When it is played, the image is scanned upward and is helpful in distinguishing positions of the various sources from left to right.

Experience it yourself here.

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Another way to do data sonification is in a radar form, like NASA did for Cat’s Eye Nebula. It’s a Sun-like giant star that’s run out of helium to burn and blowing off huge clouds of gas and dust. The data is from Chandra X-Ray and the visible data is from Hubble Telescope.Lights toward the edge has higher pitch and bright light is louder. The X-ray data has a harsher sound whereas the visible light data sounds are smoother. NASA also sonified data of Messier 51 (M51) galaxy with data from Spitzer, Hubble, GALEX, and Chandra.

first published:March 26, 2021, 11:34 IST