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Animations: New NASA Black Hole Sonifications with a Remix
Perseus Sonification
Credit: NASA/CXC/SAO/K.Arcand, SYSTEM Sounds (M. Russo, A. Santaguida)
[Runtime: 00:34]

arrow icon Audio Only Versions

Since 2003, the black hole at the center of the Perseus galaxy cluster has been associated with sound. This is because astronomers discovered that pressure waves sent out by the black hole caused ripples in the cluster's hot gas that could be translated into a note — one that humans cannot hear some 57 octaves below middle C. Now a new sonification brings more notes to this black hole sound machine. This new sonification — that is, the translation of astronomical data into sound — is being released for NASA's Black Hole Week this year.

In some ways, this sonification is unlike any other done before (1, 2, 3, 4) because it revisits the actual sound waves discovered in data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory. The popular misconception that there is no sound in space originates with the fact that most of space is essentially a vacuum, providing no medium for sound waves to propagate through. A galaxy cluster, on the other hand, has copious amounts of gas that envelop the hundreds or even thousands of galaxies within it, providing a medium for the sound waves to travel.

In this new sonification of Perseus, the sound waves astronomers previously identified were extracted and made audible for the first time. The sound waves were extracted in radial directions, that is, outwards from the center. The signals were then resynthesized into the range of human hearing by scaling them upward by 57 and 58 octaves above their true pitch. Another way to put this is that they are being heard 144 quadrillion and 288 quadrillion times higher than their original frequency. (A quadrillion is 1,000,000,000,000,000.) The radar-like scan around the image allows you to hear waves emitted in different directions. In the visual image of these data, blue and purple both show X-ray data captured by Chandra.


M87 Jet Sonification
Credit: NASA/CXC/SAO/K.Arcand, SYSTEM Sounds (M. Russo, A. Santaguida)
[Runtime: 00:32]

arrow icon Audio Only Versions

Studied by scientists for decades, the black hole in Messier 87, or M87, gained celebrity status in science after the first release from the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) project in 2019. This new sonification does not feature the EHT data, but rather looks at data from other telescopes that observed M87 on much wider scales at roughly the same time. The image in visual form contains three panels that are, from top to bottom, X-rays from Chandra, optical light from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, and radio waves from the Atacama Large Millimeter Array in Chile. The brightest region on the left of the image is where the black hole is found, and the structure to the upper right is a jet produced by the black hole. The jet is produced by material falling onto the black hole. The sonification scans across the three-tiered image from left to right, with each wavelength mapped to a different range of audible tones. Radio waves are mapped to the lowest tones, optical data to medium tones, and X-rays detected by Chandra to the highest tones. The brightest part of the image corresponds to the loudest portion of the sonification, which is where astronomers find the 6.5-billion solar mass black hole that EHT imaged.


Tour: Black Hole Sonification Remix
(Credit: NASA/CXC/A. Hobart)
[Runtime: 04:54]

With closed-captions (at YouTube)

Since 2003, the black hole at the center of the Perseus galaxy cluster has been associated with sound. This is because astronomers discovered that pressure waves sent out by the black hole caused ripples in the cluster's hot gas that could be translated into a note — one that humans cannot hear some 57 octaves below middle C. Now a new sonification brings more notes to this black hole sound machine. This new sonification — that is, the translation of astronomical data into sound — is being released for NASA's Black Hole Week this year.

In some ways, this sonification is unlike any other done before because it revisits the actual sound waves discovered in data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory. The popular misconception that there is no sound in space originates with the fact that most of space is essentially a vacuum, providing no medium for sound waves to propagate through. A galaxy cluster, on the other hand, has copious amounts of gas that envelop the hundreds or even thousands of galaxies within it, providing a medium for the sound waves to travel.

In this new sonification of Perseus, the sound waves astronomers previously identified were extracted and made audible for the first time. The sound waves were extracted in radial directions, that is, outwards from the center. The signals were then resynthesized into the range of human hearing by scaling them upward by 57 and 58 octaves above their true pitch. Another way to put this is that they are being heard 144 quadrillion and 288 quadrillion times higher than their original frequency. (A quadrillion is a one followed by 15 zeroes.) The radar-like scan around the image allows you to hear waves emitted in different directions. In the visual image of these data, blue and purple both show X-ray data captured by Chandra.

In addition to the Perseus galaxy cluster, a new sonification of another famous black hole is being released. Studied by scientists for decades, the black hole in Messier 87, or M87, gained celebrity status in science after the first release from the Event Horizon Telescope, or EHT, project in 2019. This new sonification does not feature the EHT data, but rather looks at data from other telescopes that observed M87 on much wider scales at roughly the same time. The image in visual form contains three panels that are, from top to bottom, X-rays from Chandra, optical light from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, and radio waves from the Atacama Large Millimeter Array in Chile. The brightest region on the left of the image is where the black hole is found, and the structure to the upper right is a jet produced by the black hole. The jet is produced by material falling onto the black hole. The sonification scans across the three-tiered image from left to right, with each wavelength mapped to a different range of audible tones. Radio waves are mapped to the lowest tones, optical data to medium tones, and X-rays detected by Chandra to the highest tones. The brightest part of the image corresponds to the loudest portion of the sonification, which is where astronomers find the 6.5-billion solar mass black hole that EHT imaged.

These two new black hole sonifications join the growing collection of these special products created by the team at the Chandra X-ray Center and their colleagues. For more on this ongoing project, please visit our website called "A Universe of Sound" for more information.


Quick Look: Black Hole Sonification Remix
(Credit: NASA/CXC/A. Hobart)
[Runtime: 00:57]

Two new sonifications of black holes are being released by NASA.

Sonification is a process of translating data into sounds.

Now you can listen to ripples around the black hole in Perseus like never before.

Hear what Chandra, Hubble and ALMA detect around the giant black hole in M87.





Audio Only Versions (Downloads)


Perseus Cluster:
X-ray: .mp3 .ogg .m4r


M87:
All Wavelengths: .mp3 .ogg .m4r



Return to: New NASA Black Hole Sonifications with a Remix (May 4, 2022)