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Chords of the Cosmos: Converting Data of our Universe into Sound

Presentation #412.02 in the session “Education and Public Engagement I: Public Engagement and Citizen Science”.

Published onJan 11, 2021
Chords of the Cosmos: Converting Data of our Universe into Sound

Telescopes provide us with a chance to see what objects in our Universe look like in different kinds of light. By translating the inherently digital data (encoded in the form of ones and zeroes) captured by telescopes into images, astronomers create visual representations that would otherwise be invisible to human vision. But that same data can also be experienced through our sense of hearing using data sonification. This project explores a variety of sonification techniques to convert 2D spatial information of astronomical imagery into sound and music. Mapping qualities of the data to auditory or musical elements allows us to perceive features of complex multiwavelength images as parallel streams that can be distinguished and compared. This brings celestial objects like the areas around supermassive black holes, supernova remnants, and stellar nurseries to listeners for the first time. We report on the highlights of the project, present three new data sonifications, and outline user response.

This work is being led by the Chandra X-ray Center (CXC) with funding from NASA under contract NAS8-03060, and as part of the NASA’s Universe of Learning (UoL) program. NASA’s Science Activation program strives to enable NASA science experts and to incorporate NASA science content into the learning environment effectively and efficiently for learners of all ages. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center manages the Chandra program. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory’s Chandra X-ray Center controls science from Cambridge Massachusetts and flight operations from Burlington, Massachusetts. NASA’s Universe of Learning materials are based upon work supported by NASA under cooperative agreement award number NNX16AC65A to the Space Telescope Science Institute, working in partnership with Caltech/IPAC, Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian, and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

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