We’ve seen some stunning shots from space courtesy of NASA’s $10 billion James Webb Space Telescope since July. But have you heard them?
Yes, you read that right — you can actually listen to some of the images the Webb Telescope has captured.
Scientists and musicians have teamed up to offer a different view at the images and data from Webb. On Wednesday, NASA released two track maps of the landscapes of the Cosmic Cliffs in the Carina Nebula and two views of the Southern Ring Nebula.
A third track was also released — it is comprised of notes of a transmission spectrum, graphing “the atmospheric characteristics of hot gas giant exoplanet WASP-96 b.”
These tracks – or sonifications – not only give space lovers a new view of these far-off sights but allows those who are blind or low-vision to experience the magic of Webb’s exploration.
“Similar to how written descriptions are unique translations of visual images, sonifications also translate the visual images by encoding information, like color, brightness, star locations, or water absorption signatures, as sounds,” said Quyen Hart, a senior education and outreach scientist at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. “Our teams are committed to ensuring astronomy is accessible to all.”
It’s important to note: the sounds you’ll hear in these sonifications aren’t sounds recorded in space. Instead, according to NASA, Webb’s data is mapped to sound, with music carefully composed to represent details researchers want you to focus on.
The Chandra X-ray Center leads these data sonifications as a partner of NASA. According to the Center’s website, sounds in the sonifications represent the position and brightness of the source.
“In a way, these sonifications are like modern dance or abstract painting – they convert Webb’s images and data to a new medium to engage and inspire listeners,” NASA explained in a release.
That being said, NASA notes it’s a common misconception that there is no sound in space due to it being essentially a vacuum. Instead, NASA points to galaxy clusters that have gases that can produce a medium for sound waves to travel in.
Earlier this year, NASA and the Chandra X-ray Center released a recording of sounds made by a black hole. More specifically, the sonification uses sound waves previously found by astronomers and makes them audible. To do this, the sound was scaled up 57 and 58 octaves above their original pitch, making it roughly 144 quadrillion to 288 quadrillion times louder than their original frequency.