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Sound Of Silence

It seems that intense and meaningful bits of sound seem to reach us from different worlds, more than often. Sometimes, one hears the vibration of life, in the form of lub-dub; again, the sound of a terrible explosion, perhaps the moaning of a dying element, may be heard from somewhere! Even some have noticed sounds somewhat akin to the feast of a giant, going on somewhere in the universe… as if the giant is munching on the bone of its prey! And, all of these shatter the apparent silence of this vast universe! Well, sound does not travel in space. However, the Data Sonification technology has made it possible.

Sounds of Birth and Death of the Stars
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has claimed that very dense clouds are often seen to endure severe labour pains while giving birth to stars somewhere in a galaxy. Again, a terrible explosion takes place during the death of a star in the galaxy. It is called Supernova in astronomical terms. Somewhere in the centre of a galaxy, a massive giant creates a different sort of sound while eating away the black hole. Interestingly, the NASA has managed to record all these sounds.


The independent agency of the US Federal Government, responsible for the civilian space programme, as well as aeronautics and space research, has released three videos based on information and sounds, gathered from different parts of the universe. The sounds coming out of the darkness of the universe are not audible to human beings. However, NASA has made them audible with the help of the special technology, called Sonification or Data Sonification.

The two most powerful telescopes of NASA, placed in space, have not only captured births and deaths of stars, but also the vicinity of a supermassive black hole. They are the Hubble Space Observatory telescope and the Chandra X-ray Observatory telescope. NASA’s Universe of Learning Programme transforms those images and the intensity of explosions into human audible sound (sonication) with the help of Chandra X-ray Observatory.

Hubble Space Observatory telescope

The three videos, released by NASA, help viewers experience the sounds recorded in three parts of the universe. The NASA telescopes have recorded the sound of the birth of stars in Westerlund 2, an obscured compact young star cluster (perhaps even a super star cluster) in the Milky Way, with an estimated age of about one or two million years. The cluster resides inside a stellar breeding ground, known as Gum 29, located 20,000 light-years away in the constellation Carina. Screams of stars, which bursted in a fiery explosion, have also been recorded by NASA telescopes. After the explosion, hot debris (or supernova remnants) of stars scattered in Westerlund 2. There are the remains of a huge star, called Tycho, in this part of the universe. The NASA has further recorded the sound of the area around the supermassive black hole, popularly known as Messier 87 (or M87 or Virgo A or NGC 4486). It is a supergiant elliptical galaxy with several trillion stars in the constellation Virgo. It is one of the most massive galaxies in the local universe, as it has a large population of globular clusters, about 15,000 compared with the 150-200 orbiting the Milky Way. M87 is situated about 53 million light-years away from the Earth, and its mass is (2.4±0.6)×1012 times the mass of the Sun.

Westerlund 2

The M87 galaxy contains very young and fresh stars or clusters of stars. They are not very old… roughly, one million to two million years. These stars are 20,000 light years away from the Earth. The Hubble Space Observatory and the Chandra X-ray Observatory telescopes recorded the birth of these stars. The area, where the new stars are being born, is captured in images sent by Hubble. (Green and blue areas in the video) Meanwhile, the Chandra X-ray Observatory has captured images of the areas where the stars are born. Viewers can notice that X-rays are coming out through the coils of clouds. (Purple areas in the video) As can be seen and heard in the video, the noise is even louder in the areas where the brightest light is coming out. The sound is getting raucous as the light goes up. The information sent by the Hubble Space Observatory is expressed in the sound of string instruments in the video, while the information sent by the Chandra X-ray Observatory has been expressed through the bell.

Listen: Data Sonification: Westerlund 2 (Multiwavelength)

Meanwhile, the Chandra X-ray Observatory has sent the images of death of stars and remains of their bodies. The video shows precious metals, in different colours, falling out of the bodies of the scattered stars in space. The colour is red in case of iron, while green shows silicon and blue shows sulphur. When one sees the red light, the person hears the sound in a low tone. From where the green or blue lights come, the sound is quite loud there. The fluctuations of the sound emanating from those areas helps one realise the quantity of iron, silicon and sulphur in the bodies of the stars.

Listen: Data Sonification: Tycho’s Supernova Remnant

The sound coming from the M87 has been recorded on the basis of images and data sent by the two telescopes: Chandra X-ray Observatory (blue area in the video) and Very Large Array (VLA) (red and pink area in the video). Some very strong particles come out when the black hole satisfies its hunger. They hit the very hot cloud of gas around them. As a result, X-rays and radio waves come out of the hot cloud of gas. It can be seen in the video that the light is getting brighter at the centre compared to the perimeter. Also, the sound gets louder. The light becomes stronger, while sound becomes louder during the emission of X-rays. And in the case of radio waves, the intensity of light and sound decreases.

Listen: Data Sonification: M87

All these, it can be said, form the marvel of science

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