February 1, 2023

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Black holes for so long, have been a very mysterious and intimidating force of nature. The physics of a black hole are still being studied and debated amongst Astronomers and Physicists. There is one of the little-known forces of nature at the center of the Perseus Galaxy Cluster. In early May this year NASA released sounds from this black hole. Sound’s that were captured through data sonification, which is the translation of astronomical data into sounds.

It’s important to understand data sonification when you listen to this black hole. Sonification is when data is turned into audio. In this case it was electromagnetic data that was captured from this black hole. It may sound strange talking about sound waves in space since it is a vacuum. That is why data sonification can be a useful and fun tool for astronomers. The data was captured then NASA had to then resynthesize the data into the range of human hearing. The pitch that the original data was too low for humans to hear. It had to be scaled upward by 57 to 58 octaves for humans to hear it. That is 144 quadrillion and 288 quadrillion times higher than their original frequency.

The elliptical galaxy M87 has a black at the center of it. This was another black hole that NASA has recently released sounds for. According to an article published on NASA’s website, X-rays from Chandra, optical light from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and radio waves from the Atacama Large Millimeter Array in Chile. There is not any singular type of data that can be used for sonification as shown by the M87 sounds. Being able to be creative with something like the data of a black hole millions of light years away is sure to excite any astronomer or anyone else interested in space. 

Tad Thurston is a professor of Astronomy and Physics at OCCC had plenty to say about data sonification. Thurston had something interesting to say about sonification, “It is a sound but if you stick your head in there you are not actually going to hear anything. It is way too thin to conduct any real sound, so it is just processed.” Astronomers have been able to add various instruments such as a guitar string to allow people to perceive space through sound. Anyone that may be interested in learning about data sonification should look up computer programming.

While that may sound surprising, remember that the sounds are produced from data found in space. Not the sounds of space itself, due to it being a vacuum. Tad Thurston mentioned, “If you are learning a programming language, you can take an image and you learn what that mapping is. With a programming language you could go in and investigate every pixel of that image.” There are a few different routes a person could take if they were interested in data sonification or space in general. Some of them may be something you are interested in.

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