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Current Affairs

NASA’s sonification project

Date: 26 September 2020 Tags: Space

Issue

NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Center (CXC) has unveiled a new ‘sonification’ project that transforms data from astronomical images into audio.

 

Background

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. 

 

Details

  • 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’.

  • Data sonification refers to the use of sound values to represent real data. Simply put, it is the auditory version of data visualisation.

  • 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.

  • 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. 

  • The translation begins on the left side of the image and then moves to the right. Stars and other compact sources are represented using individual short notes, while a longer humming sound is used to denote clouds of gas and dust.

  • The iconic Pillars of Creation is located in the centre of the Eagle Nebula, which is also known as Messier 16. 

  • Over the years, NASA has been working towards making data about space accessible for a larger audience. Sonification projects like this allow audiences — including visually-impaired communities — to experience space through data.