A Universe of Sound

Perseus Cluster Sonification

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. 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 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.

Access more information & file formats on this sonification

<< Back to Explore Sounds

The Chandra sonifications were led by the Chandra X-ray Center (CXC), with input from NASA's Universe of Learning. The sustained collaboration was driven by visualization scientist Dr. Kimberly Arcand (CXC), astrophysicist Dr. Matt Russo and musician Andrew Santaguida (both of the SYSTEM Sounds project). For other sonifications, please see their linked pages.

Contact Us
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
60 Garden Street,
Cambridge, MA 02138 USA
Creator/Manager: Kimberly Arcand
Art Direction/Design: Kristin DiVona
Web Developer: Khajag Mgrdichian

Chandra X-ray Center, Operated for NASA by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. This site was developed with funding from NASA under contract NAS8-03060   |   Privacy  |  Accessibility
Additional support from NASA's Universe of Learning (UoL). UoL materials are based upon work supported by NASA under award number NNX16AC65A to the Space
Telescope Science Institute, working in partnership with Caltech/IPAC, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, and Sonoma State University.