NASA’s latest sonification effort turns three space scenes into music

Brittany A. Roston - Mar 24, 2021, 2:11pm CDT
NASA’s latest sonification effort turns three space scenes into music

NASA has an ongoing sonification effort, which involves translating visual data into sounds. The resulting ‘music’ gives people an entirely different way to experience a particular image, including observations of space from various missions like the Chandra X-ray Observatory. The latest installments in the series cover three particular space scenes.

The latest sonification releases from NASA feature the Cat’s Eye Nebula, Whirlpool Galaxy, and Chandra Deep Field South. The original content from the space observations wasn’t altered to make the music, NASA explains, stating that different colors in the images are represented by different sounds.

In the Chandra sonification video, for example, the red colors are presented as low tones; the purple colors are higher tones. White noise is used to represent the white colors. Though the image seems fairly simple, it’s actually quite stunning, representing a long-duration observation by Chandra that includes entire galaxies and black holes.

Of note, the music covers the entire frequency range observed by the X-ray observatory, whereas the image is less substantial as the frequencies had to be compressed down into RGB colors. “Played as sound, however, the full range of data can be experienced,” NASA explains. “As the piece scans upward, the stereo position of the sounds can help distinguish the position of the sources from left to right.”

Joining the Chandra image are the other two projects featuring the Whirlpool Galaxy and the Cat’s Eye Nebula. NASA details each project, noting instances where x-rays, ultraviolet, visible, and infrared light are utilized as part of the sonification effort. You can find other NASA sonification videos here.

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