noises: Music of the Heavens

Johny Radio johnyradio at
Sat Jun 15 17:52:27 UTC 2013

Capturing music from the stars 

Posted: 14 Jun 2013 08:01 AM PDT

/Musica Universalis/ or /Music of the Spheres/ is an philosophical 
concept which portrays the proportions in the movement of the celestial 
bodies -- the sun, planets, stars and so on -- as a form of music. These 
observable patterns aren't quite musical, since they lack harmony, but 
the idea itself has influenced a great of artists, namely musicians in 
this case. However, is it possible to take this concept literally? Can 
stars create music?

The short answer would be yes, and a fantastic project initiated 
by Gerhard Sonnert, a research associate at the Harvard-Smithsonian 
Center for Astrophysics <>, allows users 
vising the website <> 
to literally hear the star chants. Sonnert worked closely with Wanda 
Diaz-Merced, a postdoctoral student at the University of Glasgow, who 
unfortunately lost her sight while she was still in her 20s. Diaz-Merced 
didn't let this stop her from continuing to study physics, using her 
other senses.

It all started when she heard the distinct bleeps and twitches of a 
signal from a radio telescope. This inspired her to work on a software 
called xSonify, which allows users to present numerical data as sound 
and use pitch, volume, or rhythm to distinguish between different data 
values. In 2011, Diaz-Merced worked with data from  NASA's Chandra X-ray 
Observatory and plugged in data into her software from an EX Hydrae --- 
a binary system consisting of a normal star and a white dwarf.  In this 
system, the X-ray brightness fluctuates as the white dwarf consumes gas 
from its companion.

A screenshot from X-Sonify, a sonification tool developed by NASA 

A screenshot from X-Sonify, a sonification tool developed by NASA

The resulting sounds were interesting, but far from melodic. A quick 
listen would be enough for almost anyone to label them as annoying. 
Luckily, Sonnert sensed some magic in these bland tunes and invited a 
musician friend of his, Volkmar Studtrucker, to play with their sonified 
star data. With the  EX Hydrae material, Volkmar created nine musical 
pieces, in a variety of musical styles (blues, jazz, and more), which 
they played and recorded in a trio (Volkmar Studtrucker, piano; Gerhard 
Sonnert, bass; and Hans-Peter Albrecht, drums).

Check out the sidebar on this page 
to sample the songs. Each song has the original sound data from the star 
system. Once again, science and art intertwine. They also have and 
always will, but this is a more explicit example that hopefully will 
enlighten some.

Capturing music from the stars 
is a post from ZME Science <>. (c) ZME Science 
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Johny Radio

Stick It In Your Ear!

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