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Recent Podcast
Tour: Einstein's Theory of Relativity, Critical for GPS, Seen in Distant Stars
Tour: Einstein's Theory of Relativity, Critical for GPS, Seen in Distant Stars
What do Albert Einstein, the Global Positioning System (GPS), and a pair of stars 200,000 trillion miles from Earth have in common? (2020-10-22)


A Tour of Data Sonification: Sounds from Around the Milky Way

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The center of our Milky Way galaxy is too distant for us to visit in person, but we can still explore it. Telescopes gives us a chance to see what the Galactic Center looks like in different types of light. By translating the inherently digital data captured by telescopes in space into images, astronomers create visual representations that would otherwise be invisible to us.

But what about experiencing these images with other senses like hearing? Sonification is the process that translates data into sound, and a new project brings the center of the Milky Way to listeners for the first time. As the bar moves from left to right across the image, the sounds represent the position and brightness of the sources detected by NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, Hubble Space Telescope, and Spitzer Space Telescope. The light of objects located towards the top of the image are heard as higher pitches while the intensity of the light controls the volume. Each type of light reveals different phenomena in this region, which is roughly 400 light years across at a distance of about 26,000 light years from Earth. The supermassive black hole at the center of the Galaxy, called Sagittarius A*, resides in the bright region to the lower right of the image.

In addition to the Galactic Center, this team has also produced sonified versions of the remains of a supernova called Cassiopeia A, or Cas A, and the "Pillars of Creation" located in Messier 16. Sonification projects like this allow different audiences — including blind and visually-impaired communities — to explore space through data.

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