It sounds like a need a subwoofer
February 9, 2012 10:49 AM   Subscribe

What does a nebula sound like? "Astronomer Paul Francis from the Australian National University has used [recording from spectrographs] and converted them into sound by reducing their frequency 1.75 trillion times to make them audible, as the original frequencies are too high to be heard by the human ear." His projects so far include a comet, quasar, and the life of a sunlike star. His explanation of the "Celestial Orchestra" is worth a listen.
posted by Made of Star Stuff (21 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
I was listening to the sound of a frozen lake a few nights and thinking about the Battlestar Galactica Cavil rant against flesh ("want to hear x-rays"), thinking,yeah I wonder what xrays would sound like. Steps in that direction.
posted by psergio at 10:55 AM on February 9, 2012


Thanks for this - reminds me quite a bit of the eerie "Symphonies of the Planets" CDs made from the Voyager recordings.
posted by ryanshepard at 11:01 AM on February 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sorry for the tangent but psergio you've made me remember that the only full clip of that monologue I could find was on Megavideo and now Megavideo is gone! Why is this not on YouTube!? BSG fandom is a failure!
posted by palidor at 11:01 AM on February 9, 2012


I never really understand these things. I mean, I can see that you can create an algorithm to convert a set of measurements of something that isn't sound into sound, but in what sense is this what that thing "sounds like"? I could come up with an algorithm that would convert the tree-rings in the wood of your guitar into sound or convert the molecular weight of the brass in a bell into sound, but that really wouldn't be what those instruments "sound like," would it?
posted by yoink at 11:08 AM on February 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


What does a nebula sound like? In this transpoition it sounds pretty much like lost phase data due to a heavily manipulated spectrum. If you mess around with editing spectra and additive synthesis, most of the results sound kind of like this. Not to say that the data has been trashed, it is just that most arbitrary groupings of spectrum have this sorty of non-harmonic chimeyness that we have here.
posted by idiopath at 11:12 AM on February 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


yoink, it's not quite that bad.

Light is just vibrations (waves) of an "electromagnetic field".

Sound is vibrations (waves) of gases hitting your eardrum (or vibrating the rest of your body).

If you divide the speed of X-ray light vibration by a couple trillion, you get vibration speeds like those to which are ears are sensitive.

This is not unlike night vision goggles, or a "view" of the sun in ultraviolet light
posted by anarch at 11:14 AM on February 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


I never really understand these things. I mean, I can see that you can create an algorithm to convert a set of measurements of something that isn't sound into sound, but in what sense is this what that thing "sounds like"? I could come up with an algorithm that would convert the tree-rings in the wood of your guitar into sound or convert the molecular weight of the brass in a bell into sound, but that really wouldn't be what those instruments "sound like," would it?

Well, it's a pretty simple linear mapping from one segment of the real number line to another, and in this case the units are the same on both sides. This project has at least some theoretical value, practical issues aside, in that representing EM radiation as sound emphasizes that radiation's continuous and ambient nature as compared to the printed output from a spectrometer. I also think you get a more intuitive sense for the distribution of frequencies and the bandwidth of the radiation when listening to it instead of visualizing it with a two-dimensional graph. I don't think the article title means to assert that nebulas sound like anything in a literal sense, but rather that rendering the information this way intuitively highlights meaningful attributes of the data that other presentation methods obscure.
posted by invitapriore at 11:28 AM on February 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


ryanshepard: "Thanks for this - reminds me quite a bit of the eerie "Symphonies of the Planets" CDs made from the Voyager recordings."

Heh - I was just going to post about that - I have a copy on my server at home. Wonderful stuff :) I love this kind of thing.
posted by symbioid at 11:30 AM on February 9, 2012


There's reason it's called "media."
posted by aldus_manutius at 11:31 AM on February 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


In a similar (but more terrestrial) fashion, there is 'Earthquake Music' - audio created from tectonic / seismic activity. I used to have an album by an IDM/Ambient artist that made compositions based on these tectonic recordings, but hell if I can remember what the artist was called..
posted by FatherDagon at 11:40 AM on February 9, 2012


J. S. Haldane said that the universe was not only "queerer than we imagine, but queerer than we CAN imagine" We've evolved to perceive only part of the "show" that we're part of; stuff like this gives us a clue into another manifestation of "reality". Who knows, there may be beings that are perfectly equipped to perceive sound from light waves. I love this stuff! Great post.
posted by Vibrissae at 11:45 AM on February 9, 2012


J. S. Haldane said. . .

Whenever I see that guy's name, I wonder if he existed as a symbiotic being consisting of only a human head and crab-like legs.
 
posted by Herodios at 12:34 PM on February 9, 2012


I could come up with an algorithm that would convert the tree-rings in the wood of your guitar into sound

Someone has done that (kind of).
posted by wuzandfuzz at 1:05 PM on February 9, 2012


In this transpoition it sounds pretty much like lost phase data due to a heavily manipulated spectrum.

Seriously. This is the equivalent of sticking a cardboard tube up to your ear and thinking that you're hearing the 'real' sound because lots of frequencies have been excluded. I do think this has some value, but 99% of the examples have this additive synthesis quality because of the frame of reference. Nature is full of dramatic phase changes and modulations, but it's hard to identify and collect that data in advance, especially on a cosmic scale.
posted by anigbrowl at 1:25 PM on February 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh man, oh man, oh man! I've always been a giant nerd, and one of the first computer games I ever had involved slowly working your way through NASA training missions and finished with a landing on Mars to scout for minerals or something. During the training missions you had to use the Canada Arm to capture a satellite and bring it into the cargo bay of a space shuttle and then close the cargo bay doors. The doors closed, painfully slowly, about as fast as an old Apple LC II could render the animation, but with a satisfying metallic clang.

Child me was playing this game with an equally nerdy uncle who I only got to see once a year or so, during the holidays. I successfully closed the cargo bay doors and turned grinning to my uncle, awaiting praise for my mad skillz at holding down arrow keys and the space bar at the same time. I didn't get a "Good Job!". Instead he looked at me and said, "There's no sound in space. You wouldn't hear those doors close." I was crushed and angry. To prove him wrong I spent the afternoon, while the family doing something not nerdy, reading both our out of date hardbound encyclopedia set, and searching through the CD-ROM encyclopedia my Dad had gotten us when my older brother entered middle school. I didn't understand all of the encyclopedia info, so my uncle tried to explain the nature of sound, vibration and the inner ear. He left me with the idea that maybe an astronaut would hear something as the frame of the shuttle vibrated with doors closing, but it would be nothing like what we would hear on Earth.

~A Few Years Later~ (Imagine years of a nerd, with genetic hearing issues, obsessed with space learn all about how sound does not travel through a vacuum.)

In the 6th grade we had a section on outer space, which to me was 45 minutes a day of heaven on Earth. I already knew most of what we were being taught and was sure that I was impressing the girls and intimidating the guys by pretty much rocking every single question asked in that section. One day we start talking about nebulas and my teacher described them as giant thundering dust storms in outer space. She divided the room into thirds and had a group make a thundering sound, a group make a wind like sound, and a group rub pieces of paper together to sound like a dust storm.

We made this sound for what could only have been a minute or two, and our teacher beamed at us having just imparted what it would sound like inside a nebula.

Then I raised my hand, was recognized, and told everyone proudly that "There is no sound in space." Her look was withering, but she didn't say anything. The rest of the year it was like I'd killed her dog. No recognition, no attention, just cold grades from a cold teacher. The dead, icy husks in the Kuiper belt are warmer than our relationship was after that.
posted by Science! at 1:32 PM on February 9, 2012 [5 favorites]


I always wanted Pythagoras to be right about the music of the spheres; it was just so elegant. Or fantastic. One of those.
posted by Anitanola at 1:40 PM on February 9, 2012


What accounts for the sudden onset of sound, like in the quasar example, it starts of with sort of brown noise, then you hear a thumping, then like the 'tone' sound comes in. I'm just wondering where he gets the time component from. Are the signals changing over time? A Quasar is the black hole at the center of a young galaxy sucking stuff in which releases x-rays/gamma rays -- they don't turn off and on quickly.
posted by delmoi at 5:43 PM on February 9, 2012


But hark! The heav'nly sphere turns round,
And silence now is drowned
In ecstasy of sound.
How on a sudden the still air is charmed
As if all harmony were just alarmed,
And every soul with transport filled
Alternately is thawed and chilled.
--William Congreve, libretto for Semele, music by G. F. Handel
posted by Pallas Athena at 6:01 PM on February 9, 2012


delmoi, in the Quasar project, he's put together the spectrographs of a slice of space, ordered as though you were moving from the edge of a galaxy in towards the central gravity mass. There's a little more of an explanation of what you're "really listening to" in the Celestial Orchestra one; because he's transforming spectrograph signals into sound waves, each element has a signature sound.
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 9:28 AM on February 10, 2012


I"m with the doubters on this. I can't see how this is any really meaningful kind of mapping from one frequency spectrum to another.

by various FX processing you could make almost anything sound like this. These sort of projects are just a bit - well daft. The transformation of data is so radical that its meaningless.
posted by mary8nne at 9:57 AM on February 10, 2012


mary8nne, you do realize that all of our astronomical work is pretty much done in a similar manner. The way we "see" stars are using computerized mapping of frequencies into our light spectra (we don't SEE x-rays, yet we use technology to make graphs of them as they leave the stars and such).

This is just one more mapping which just gives a different mode of perception.

Would you say an infrared camera doesn't actually LOOK like infrared? Well yeah, you're right, we can't see it, but we use tech to let us get an idea of what it's like.

That's all. This just happens to be with ears instead of eyes. Ratios and such are the same such that we can "grok" what's happening with our limited minds.
posted by symbioid at 12:06 PM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


« Older The Man Who Lived on his Bike...  |  Republican state rep. Maureen ... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments