Adding Space Music To The Astronomy Toolbox

Astronomy fans were recently treated to the Great Conjunction, where Jupiter and Saturn appear close together from the perspective of our planet Earth. Astronomy has given us this and many other magnificent sights, but we can get other senses involved. Science News tells of explorations into adapting our sense of hearing into tools of astronomical data analysis.

Data visualization has long been a part of astronomy, but they’re not restricted to charts and graphs that require a trained background to interpret. Every “image” generated using data from radio telescopes (like the recently-lost Arecibo facility) are a visualization of data from outside the visible spectrum. Visualizations also include crowd pleasing false-color images such as The Pillars of Creation published by NASA where interstellar emissions captured by science instruments are remapped to colors in the visible spectrum. The results are equal parts art and science, and can be appreciated from either perspective.

Data sonification is a whole other toolset with different strengths. Our visual system evolved ability to pick out edges and patterns in spatial plots, which we exploit for data visualization. In contrast our aural system evolved ability to process data in the frequency domain, and the challenge is to figure out how to use those abilities to gain scientifically relevant data insight. For now this field of work is more art than science, but it does open another venue for the visually impaired. Some of whom are already active contributors in astronomy and interested in applying their well-developed sense of hearing to their work.

Of course there’s no reason this has to be restricted to astronomy. A few months ago we covered a project for sonification of DNA data. It doesn’t take much to get started, as shown in this student sonification project. We certainly have no shortage of projects that make interesting sounds on this site, perhaps one of them will be the key.

4 thoughts on “Adding Space Music To The Astronomy Toolbox

  1. The best transcribe I’ve heard lately was the gravity wave detected, heard as a low to high tone sweep accelerating faster till poof, no more. There was one soundie more than 30 years ago. I heard on NPR where one person did the planets not Holst’s version, with Mercury as a high pitch with a waver in pitch equal to it’s eccentricity in solar orbit. Next down in proportional pitch is Venus with it’s waver. Then Earth and so on. The radio spot played this built up one rock at a time all the way out to Pluto. Nine tones all in proportion, our Sol Vibe of sorts. I’ve looked for it on the web and can’t find it. Now it would take 10kHz to do Mercury to still hear in the deep bass more of those charted Kuyper belt objects hanging out there with Pluto.

    In the early 80’s I ran across a distant radio program playing a rather obscure LP that I had, then they went to something equally cool but unknown. This went on till the top of the hour when the host ran down the playlist and ended with the phrase “safe journey space fans where ever you are”. The program is Music from the Hearts of Space, it’s one hour long uninterrupted. Fewer stations carry it now but now you can stream it free anytime from their site, they got rid of Flash finally. Since the beginning such music needed a printed playlist with information, so you could send them a SASE with a dollar and get it. Then later Steven Hill announces at the end of each program that as well as the playlist is on the radio conference on the WELL, well that’s a while ago. Also a pitch for Echoes though less space but 10hours a week.

  2. “Astronomy fans were recently treated to the Great Conjunction, where Jupiter and Saturn appear close together from the perspective of our planet Earth. ”

    More like freezing our cajangas off December 22 wondering which dots we could see were the right ones. Ah for the days when planets had labels and visible orbits.

  3. Somehow I am reminded of the salt shaker (scanner) DeForest Kelly (Dr McCoy) waved over patients accompanied by sound effects indicating features of metabolism.

    Presumably the sounds matched up with the visual up and down sliders over sick bay beds.

    I saw flip phones come in but neither over-bed nor handheld sensor disgnostics got realized.

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