You are here

Star Songs

December 20, 2013

[AUDIO: EX HYA bossa music]

Astronomy is a visual science. Astronomers can see their targets, or convert the data gathered by their instruments to graphs or other images. But some astronomers have found ways to convert some of that data to sound. That provides a different method for seeking out patterns, which can offer new insights into the workings of the universe.

One project is called Star Songs.

It began when Wanda Diaz Merced, a blind graduate student, was working toward her doctorate at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. She was using some NASA-developed software to create audio from X-ray observations of EX Hydrae, a strange binary star system. One star in the system “steals” gas from the other. That creates a disk of hot gas and high-powered jets of gas, and leads to some occasional outbursts.

Gerhard Sonnert, a staff researcher who’s also a musician, saw rhythms in the printed versions of her work. He teamed up with a composer, who used the audio data as the basis for nine musical pieces, which were done in different styles. This section of data became a waltz, recorded by a trio that included Sonnert and the composer. [AUDIO: EX HYA waltz music]

So “Star Songs” not only provides a new way to understand the stars, it provides a new way to appreciate their beauty as well.


Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2013

Get Premium Audio

Listen to today's episode of StarDate on the web the same day it airs in high-quality streaming audio without any extra ads or announcements. Choose a $8 one-month pass, or listen every day for a year for just $30.