While we’re all used to marveling at beautiful pictures of space, in recent years NASA has been experimenting with sharing the wonders of space in another way: through sound. With sonifications, space image data is translated into audio clips to provide a soothing, ethereal way to experience the wonders of the universe.
NASA and its partner agencies recently released a series of sonifications of the famous first images from the James Webb Space Telescope, including the sounds of two nebulae and an exoplanet.
The beautiful image of the Carina Nebula has been translated into several sonifications, showing the meandering, undulating sounds of its clouds or space rocks, the sparkling flashes of light in its “sky” and the avant-garde irregularity of its stars.
The original idea of sonifications was to help blind or partially sighted people be able to appreciate space data, but they have proved popular with other members of the public as well.
“Music taps into our emotional centers,” said musician and physics professor Matt Russo, who worked on Webb’s sonifications, in statement. “Our goal is to make Webb’s images and data comprehensible through sound—helping listeners create their own mental images.”
Sonifications are created by selecting specific features of an image or data set and transposing that information into sounds. Previous sonifications have used different methods such as radar shaped movement around images or starting from the center of the image and working outwards.
“These compositions provide a different way to experience the detailed information in the first Webb data. “In the same way that written descriptions are unique translations of visual images, sonifications also translate visual images by encoding information, such as color, brightness, location of stars, or signatures of water absorption, such as sounds,” said Kuen Hart, a scientist at Space Telescope Science Institute. “Our teams are committed to ensuring that astronomy is accessible to all.”