For several years, NASA has been producing sonifications in which images of space are turned into soundscapes so that they can be enjoyed both by people who are vision impaired and by a general audience who are interested in experiencing space in a new way. Now, NASA has taken this concept one step further by turning an image of space into an original composition to be performed by a group of musicians.
The image used as the basis for the compositions is of the center of the Milky Way galaxy, a bustling region of gas filaments, X-rays, and a supermassive black hole called Sagittarius A*. The image combines data from Chandra, Hubble, and Spritzer to bring together data from the X-ray, visible light, and infrared wavelengths.
The project brought in composer Sophie Kastner to interpret the image into sheet music for instruments including strings, piano, flue, clarinet, and percussion.
“It’s like a writing a fictional story that is largely based on real facts,” said Kastner in a statement. “We are taking the data from space that has been translated into sound and putting a new and human twist on it.”
Kastner said she drew inspiration by focusing on portions of the image and creating soundscapes that reflected the contents of each region. “I like to think of it as creating short vignettes of the data, and approaching it almost as if I was writing a film score for the image,” said Kastner. “I wanted to draw listener’s attention to smaller events in the greater data set.”
The Chandra team that has been working on the sonifications described the setting of the image to music as an extension of their work making space images accessible and intriguing to all.
“We’ve been working with these data, taken in X-ray, visible, and infrared light, for years,” said Kimberly Arcand, Chandra visualization and emerging technology scientist. “Translating these data into sound was a big step, and now with Sophie, we are again trying something completely new for us.”
This composition is a pilot, but the team hopes to create more compositions in the future inspired by other space images.
“In some ways, this is just another way for humans to interact with the night sky just as they have throughout recorded history,” says Arcand. “We are using different tools, but the concept of being inspired by the heavens to make art remains the same.”
- SpaceX’s dramatic 360 video of Starship launch puts you on the launch tower
- Spot the space station with this new NASA app
- Space station leak prompts NASA to rework spacewalk schedule
- NASA is seeking help to crash the space station at the end of its life
- Chocolate mousse in space is more important than you think