A Universe of Sound

Southern Ring Nebula Sonification

Video Description:
NASA’s Webb Telescope uncovered two views of the Southern Ring Nebula — in near-infrared light (at left) and mid-infrared light (at right) — and each has been adapted to sound.

Two stars orbit one another at the center of this planetary nebula. The smaller, fainter red star in the mid-infrared image at right is at the end of its lifetime — it has puffed off layers of gas and dust for thousands of years. Its companion, the brighter, larger star in both images, has stirred up those ejections. Now, listeners can hear the stars and surrounding shells of material in each image clearly.

In this sonification, the colors in the images were mapped to pitches of sound — frequencies of light converted directly to frequencies of sound. Near-infrared light is represented by a higher range of frequencies at the beginning of the track. Mid-way through, the notes change, becoming lower overall to reflect that mid-infrared includes longer wavelengths of light.

Listen carefully at 15 seconds and 44 seconds. These notes align with the centers of the near- and mid-infrared images, where the stars at the center of the “action” appear. In the near-infrared image that begins the track, only one star is heard clearly, with a louder clang. In the second half of the track, listeners will hear a low note just before a higher note, which denotes that two stars were detected in mid-infrared light. The lower note represents the redder star that created this nebula, and the second is the star that appears brighter and larger.

This sonification does not represent sounds recorded in space. Two musicians mapped the telescope’s data to sound, carefully composing music that represents near- and mid-infrared light, specifically to hear their contrasts. In a way, this sonification is like modern dance or an abstract painting — it converts two of Webb’s images into a new medium to engage and inspire listeners.

Explore Webb’s image of the Southern Ring Nebula, including its full text description, in more detail.

Screenshot of Southern Ring Nebula, NIRCam & MIRI Screenshot of Southern Ring Nebula, NIRCam Only Screenshot of Southern Ring Nebula, MIRI Only


NIRCam Only


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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.

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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.