Weber Cosmic Cliff Sonication

Hear the fascinating sounds of the universe through the Webb Space Telescope

Scientists and musicians sonified images and data from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope.Credit: NASA

New track combines science and art to improve experiences for blind and low-vision communities

Expert team including scientists and musicians creates a new way to explore images and data

NASA
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“data-gt-translation-attributes=”[{” attribute=””>NASA’s Webb Sonification

Using sound to explore some of the first full-color infrared images and data from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope. Credit: NASA

NASA Webb’s First Full-Color Images, Data Are Set to Sound

NASA offers a unique, immersive way to explore some of the first full-color infrared images and data from the James Webb Space Telescope – through sound. Listeners can enter the intricate soundscape of the Cosmic Cliffs in the Carina Nebula, explore the contrasting tones of two images that depict the Southern Ring Nebula, and identify the individual data points in a transmission spectrum of WASP-96 b, a hot gas giant exoplanet.

“Music taps into our emotional centers,” said Matt Russo, a musician and physics professor at the University of Toronto. “Our goal is to make Webb’s images and data understandable through sound – helping listeners create their own mental images.”

A team of scientists, musicians, and a member of the blind and visually impaired community worked to adapt Webb’s data, with support from the Webb mission and NASA’s Universe of Learning.

Webb’s Cosmic Cliffs Sonification

Image credits: NASA, ESA, CSA and STScI; Accessible Productions: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI and Kimberly Arcand (CXC/SAO), Matt Russo and Andrew Santaguida (SYSTEM Sounds), Quyen Hart (STScI), Claire Blome ( STScI) and Christine Malec (consultant).

Experts have mapped a near-infrared image of a cosmic cliff in the Carina Nebula, captured by NASA’s Webb telescope, into a symphony of sound. The musicians assigned unique notes to the translucent, muslin regions of the nebula, as well as the very dense regions of gas and dust, resulting in the humming soundscape.

Sonification scans the image from left to right. The vibrant and full soundtrack represents the details in this massive air chamber with a mountain look. The gas and dust in the top half of the image are represented by blue tones and a windy, drone-like sound. The lower half of the image, represented in a deep red of orange and red, has a sharper, more melodic composition.

Brighter light in the image translates into louder sound. The vertical position of the light also determines the frequency of the sound. For example, bright lights near the top of the image sound loud and high, but bright lights near the middle are loud and low-pitched. Darker, dust-obscured areas that appear lower in the image are represented by lower frequencies and sharper, undistorted notes.

Webb’s Southern Ring Nebula Sonication

Image credits: NASA, ESA, CSA and STScI; Accessible Productions: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI and Kimberly Arcand (CXC/SAO), Matt Russo and Andrew Santaguida (SYSTEM Sounds), Quyen Hart (STScI), Claire Blome ( STScI) and Christine Malec (consultant).

NASA’s Webb Telescope has discovered two views of the Southern Ring Nebula, each of which has been adapted for sound. The view on the left (NIRCam) is in NIR light and the view on the right (MIRI) is in mid-IR light.

In this sonification, the colors in the image are mapped to the pitch of the sound—the frequency of light translates directly to the frequency of the sound. Near-infrared light is represented by the higher frequency range at the beginning of the orbit. Halfway through, the notes change and the whole goes lower to reflect that the mid-infrared contains longer wavelengths of light.

Listen carefully at 15 seconds and 44 seconds. These annotations are aligned with the center of the near- and mid-infrared images, where the star in the center of the “action” appears. In the near-infrared image of the beginning of the track, only one star is clearly discernible and louder. In the second half of the track, listeners will hear a bass before the treble, which indicates the detection of two stars in the mid-infrared light. The lower notes represent the redder stars that produced this nebula, and the second one appears to be brighter and larger.

Webb’s exoplanet WASP-96 b sonication

Image credits: NASA, ESA, CSA and STScI; Accessible Productions: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI and Kimberly Arcand (CXC/SAO), Matt Russo and Andrew Santaguida (SYSTEM Sounds), Quyen Hart (STScI), Claire Blome ( STScI) and Christine Malec (consultant).

NASA’s Webb Telescope has observed the atmospheric signature of the hot gas giant planet WASP-96 b, which contains a distinct signature of water. The individual data points of the resulting transmission spectrum are converted to sound.

Sonication scans the spectrum from left to right. From bottom to top, the y-axis ranges from less to more light blocked. The x-axis ranges from 0.6 microns on the left to 2.8 microns on the right. The spacing of each data point corresponds to the frequency of light that each point represents. Longer wavelengths of light have lower frequencies and lower tones can be heard. Volume represents the amount of light detected in each data point.

The sound of water droplets falling is used to represent the four water characteristics. These sounds simplify the data – water is detected as a feature with multiple data points. The sound is only aligned to the highest point in the data.

Mapping data to sound

Although these tracks support blind and low-vision listeners in the first place, they are designed to appeal to anyone listening. “These pieces offer a different way to experience the detailed information in Webb’s first data. Similar to how written descriptions are unique translations of visual images, sonification also works by incorporating information such as color, brightness, star position or water absorption characteristics Code to sound to translate visual images,” said Quyen Hart, Senior Education and Outreach Scientist. Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. “Our team is committed to ensuring astronomy is accessible to all.”

“An important finding came from people who were sighted. They reported that the experience helped them understand how blind or low-sighted people access information differently.”

The project is similar to the “curb cutting effect”, an accessibility requirement that supports a wide range of pedestrians. Kimberly Arcand, a visualization scientist at the Chandra X-ray Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, explained: “When the curb is cut, people who use wheelchairs first, as well as people who walk on crutches and parents with strollers benefit. ” NASA’s initial data sonication project, now working on behalf of NASA’s Learning Universe. “We want these voices to reach the same broad audience.”

Preliminary results from a survey led by Arcand showed that people who are blind or low vision, as well as those who are sighted, reported that they learned something about astronomical images by listening. Participants also shared that the auditory experience resonated deeply with them. “Reactions from respondents varied — from awe to a little nervous,” Arcand continued. “An important finding came from people who were sighted. They reported that the experience helped them understand how blind or low-sighted people access information differently.”

It should be noted that these tracks are not actual sounds recorded in space. Instead, Russo and his collaborator, musician Andrew Santaguida, mapped Webb’s data to sound, carefully crafting the music to express exactly the details the team wanted listeners to pay attention to. In a way, these sounds can be seen as modern dance or abstract painting – they transform Weber’s imagery and data into a new medium to engage and inspire listeners.

Blind and low vision community member Christine Malec, who supports the project, said she experienced the soundtrack with multiple senses. “When I first heard the sound, it struck me in a visceral and emotional way that I imagine people with sight experience when looking up at the night sky.”

There are other profound benefits of these adaptations. “I wanted to understand every nuance of the sound and every instrument choice, because that’s mostly how I experience images or data,” Malec continues. Overall, the team hopes that the sonification of Webb’s data will help more listeners feel a closer connection to the universe — and inspire everyone to keep an eye on the observatory’s upcoming astronomical discoveries.


As the world’s premier observatory for space science, the James Webb Space Telescope will unravel the mysteries of our solar system, transcend distant worlds around other stars, and explore the mysterious structure and origin of our universe and our place in it. Webb is an international initiative led by NASA and its partners ESA (European Space Agency) and CSA (Canadian Space Agency).

The sounds are the result of a collaboration between the James Webb Space Telescope and NASA’s Learning Universe program. The Chandra X-ray Center (CXC) leads data sonication as NASA’s Learning Universe Partner. Scientific experts affiliated with the Webb mission provide their expertise in Webb observations, data and targets.

NASA’s Learning Universe is part of NASA’s Science Activation Program from the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters. The Science Activation Program connects NASA science experts, authentic content and experiences, and community leaders to activate ideas and promote greater understanding of our world and beyond. Using direct connections to science and the experts behind it, NASA’s Learning Universe provides resources and experiences that enable youth, families, and lifelong learners to explore fundamental questions in science, experience how science is done, and discover the universe for themselves .

NASA’s cosmic learning materials are based on work supported by NASA under a collaborative agreement awarded to the Space Telescope Science Institute NNX16AC65A, in collaboration with Caltech/IPAC, Center for Astrophysics | Harvard Smithsonian, and Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

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