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Listen to the sounds of a space nebula with NASA sonifications

A NASA project called sonifications gives a new way to experience beautiful images of space: via sound. Three new sonifications have translated visual information in images taken by NASA telescopes into soundscapes, letting you hear the sounds of cosmic objects.

The new sonifications are of a famous nebula, a distant galaxy, and a dead star, using data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory as well as the James Webb Space Telescope and the Hubble Space Telescope. Previous sonifications have included the sounds of a black hole and a pair of interacting galaxies.

“We are so excited to partner with NASA to help tell the story about NASA’s sonification project,” said the leader of the sonification project, Kimberly Arcand of Chandra’s Visualization and Emerging Technology Scientist, in a statement. “It’s wonderful to see how this project has grown and reached so many people.”

Data Sonification: IC 443 / Jellyfish Nebula (Composite)

This sonification shows the famous Jellyfish Nebula, also known as IC 443. Sounds start from top to bottom, where brighter lights correspond to louder sounds, and redder colors are lower pitched, while bluer colors are higher pitched. The sounds of water droplets in the background represent the many background stars seen in the image of the nebula.

Data Sonification: M74 / Phantom Galaxy (Composite)

The sonification is of a galaxy called Messier 74, which, like our Milky Way, is a spiral galaxy. This sonification rotates in a clock-like motion, with objects more distant from the center being lower pitched and those close to the center being higher pitched. The image combines data from different telescopes so the brightest stars captured by James Webb are represented by percussion sounds, while the data from Hubble is represented in synthesizer sounds.

Data Sonification: MSH 15-52 / PSR B1509-58 (Composite)

Finally, this shows an object called MSH 15-52, which is the graveyard of a dead star. The star exploded in a supernova visible on Earth around 1,700 years ago, and this explosion sent out a blast wave that has blown charged particles away from the star’s remains. The sonification starts at the bottom of the image, with this cloud of charged particles moving upward toward the light from the dead star’s core.

There’s also a new documentary made by NASA about the sonifications, showing the team who create them and the people who enjoy them, including blind and low-vision people who can now enjoy the science and beauty of space images in a new way. The half-hour documentary is called Listen to the Universe and is available to stream for free on NASA’s website.

“Sonifications add a new dimension to stunning space imagery, and make those images accessible to the blind and low-vision community for the first time,” said sonification team member and one of the producers of the documentary, Liz Landau of NASA’s Astrophysics Division. “I was honored to help tell the story of how Dr. Arcand and the SYSTEM Sounds team make these unique sonic experiences and the broad impact those sonifications have had.”

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Georgina Torbet
Georgina is the Digital Trends space writer, covering human space exploration, planetary science, and cosmology. She…
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