NASA discovers black hole sound, releases space ‘remix’

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What does a black hole sound like? It’s “creepy” and “ethereally beautiful,” according to those who heard the audio clip posted by NASA on Twitter.

NASA tweeted what it called a remixed sonication of the black hole at the center of the Perseus galaxy cluster, some 240 million light-years from Earth. Sound waves discovered there nearly two decades ago were “extracted and made sound” for the first time this year, according to NASA.

34 seconds clip Social media ignited, and many were stunned that anything, let alone sounding like a creepy guttural moan, could escape a black hole.

But the agency said the idea that there is no voice in space is actually a “pervasive misconception”. While most of space is a vacuum with no medium for sound waves to propagate through, galaxy clusters “have vast amounts of gas that encapsulate hundreds or even thousands of galaxies within them, providing a medium for sound waves to propagate through,” it explained.

The clip, described by NASA as a “black hole remix,” was first released in early May to coincide with NASA’s Black Hole Week — but a tweet from NASA’s exoplanet team on Sunday really made it hard to read Going down, the clip has more than 13 million views.

Sound waves were discovered in 2003, and after 53 hours of observation, researchers at NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory “found that pressure waves emitted by black holes cause ripples in the hot gas of star clusters that can be translated into musical notes. “

But humans can’t hear that note because its frequency is so low—according to NASA, it’s the equivalent of a B-flat, about 57 octaves below a piano’s mid-range C. So Chandra astronomers remixed the sound and increased its frequency by 57 and 58 octaves. “Another way of saying that is that they sound 144 trillion and 288 trillion times higher than the original frequency,” NASA said.

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Kimberly Arcand, lead researcher on the Vocalization project, said that when she first heard the sound in late 2021 – she described it as “a beautiful Hans Zimmer score with a moody level” Very high” – she jumped excitedly.

“It’s such a wonderful representation of what’s in my head,” Chandra’s visualization scientist and head of emerging technologies told The Washington Post. But it’s also a “tipping point” for the entire sonication initiative because it’s “really that sparks people’s imaginations,” she said.

It also points to areas for future research. “There are these supermassive black holes scattered across the universe…the idea of ​​making incredible songs is a very tantalizing thing,” Arcand added.

deep voice from deep space

Experts warn that if you’re somehow standing next to a black hole, the sound in NASA’s mix isn’t exactly what you’re hearing. Michael Smith, a professor of astronomy at the University of Kent in the United Kingdom, told The Washington Post that the human ear is “not sensitive enough to pick up these sound waves.” “But they’re there, they’re the right frequency, and if we amplify it … we can hear it,” Smith said. He likened it to a radio – “You turn up the volume, turn it up a little more, and you can hear it.”

The idea came during the coronavirus pandemic, Arcand said. She has been working on converting X-ray light captured by Chandra’s orbiting telescope into images, including creating 3D models that can be printed to help people with low or no vision access the data. When the pandemic hit, the program became difficult to maintain remotely.

So she decided, along with other colleagues, to try something new: sonification, or the process of converting astronomical data into sound. The team included blind experts and inspired Arcand to “think differently” about the value of translating complex data sets into sound.

Looking at data from the Perseus cluster of galaxies in 2003, she and her colleagues worked to determine the properties of the pressure waves and infer the sounds they would produce, then boost their frequencies.

The decision to release a “refresh” of the nearly 20-year-old data is part of an effort by the agency to use social media to communicate complex scientific findings in plain English to its millions of followers.

Through a partnership with Twitter, NASA discovered that “while its fans love stunning space photos and behind-the-scenes missions, there’s also a group of people who want to know what space sounds like,” the company wrote in a press release.

Some experts said the video was confusing because it gave the impression that “if you were there, you would hear something,” said Chris Linthott, professor of astrophysics at Oxford University. wrote Tuesday on Twitter – it’s as if you had a recording device sending sound directly from the galaxy cluster to Earth.

“The sounding of data is fun and useful — especially for those who might not be able to see the image. But it’s sometimes used to make things seem more ‘deep’ than they really are, like here,” Lintot added.

But University of Kent professor Smith said: “It makes perfect sense to say there are sound waves. [in the galaxy cluster], if we were there, if we had sensitive enough ears, we could hear them. “

However, he admits, “these galaxy clusters are so far away that they have to make a lot of assumptions to turn it into the sound we might hear when we’re there.”

Arcand said she understands criticism from some quarters that sonication may oversimplify a complex process—especially because the pressure, heat and gas mixture that produces sound waves within the Perseus cluster are specific to that environment of. But the value of vocalization, she says, is that it allows her to “question things in a different way.”

“In my opinion, it’s an excellent representation of science, and a pretty haunting sound!” Carol Mundell, head of astrophysics at the University of Bath in England, told The Washington Post via email. newspaper”.

The supermassive black hole seen at the center of our galaxy

The project, and NASA’s tweets about it, appear to have accomplished the space agency’s mission of sharing its science and research with the wider public in a conversational way — though not everyone likes the sound of remixing black holes.

Online, people are both excited and scared about it, colorful comparison The Lord of the Rings and Silent Hill series.

Others are interested in the audio clip, overlaying an image star puppy or the closest to what is considered to be mummy voice.

“I can confirm that the black hole noise released by NASA is the sound of hell,” one darkly humorous Twitter user wrote. other Say: “A new genre just dropped: cosmic horror.”

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