While telescopes offer glimpses of outer space by translating digital data into stunning images, NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Centre (CXC) has gone a step further by unveiling a new ‘sonification’ project that transforms data from astronomical images into audio.
- Users can now ‘listen’ to images of the Galactic Centre, the remains of a supernova called Cassiopeia A, as well as the Pillars of Creation Nebula, which are all located in a region around 26,000 light years away from Earth.
- The data has been collected by NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory, Hubble Space Telescope and Spitzer Space Telescope — each of which is represented by a different musical ‘instrument’.
What is ‘data sonification’?
- Data sonification refers to the use of sound values to represent real data. Simply put, it is the auditory version of data visualisation.
- In NASA’s recent Chandra project, for instance, data is represented using a number of musical notes.
- With this data sonification project, users can now experience different phenomena captured in astronomical images as an aural experience.
- The birth of a star, a cloud of dust or even a black hole can now be ‘heard’ as a high or low pitched sound.
How did NASA translate astronomical images into sound?
- NASA’s distant telescopes in space collect inherently digital data, in the form of ones and zeroes, before converting them into images.
- The images are essentially visual representations of light and radiation of different wavelengths in space, that can’t be seen by the human eye.
- The Chandra project has created a celestial concert of sorts by translating the same data into sound.
- Pitch and volume are used to denote the brightness and position of a celestial object or phenomenon. So far, the astronomers behind Project Chandra have released three examples made using data collected from some of the most distinct features in the sky — the Galactic Centre, Cassiopeia A, and Pillars of Creation Nebula.