Sounds Of Space
December 20, 2013

Revealing The Sounds Of Space With Satellite Data

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

A scientist from the University of Leicester is helping to reveal the sounds of space by using satellite data. Some areas of space are so quiet you can hear your heart beat, but there are other areas that have the capacity to be as noisy as places on Earth. A multimedia composer at the University’s Space Center decided to generate a few of the surprising Earth-like sounds one could find in space.

Andrew Williams used data collected from satellites and long-wave radios to show off the similarities of sound. He developed a tune that mimics the sound of electrons hitting the upper atmosphere of Earth and another that represents the low hum of plasma passing through the sun to create a pulsing rhythm.

[ Listen: What does space sound like? ]

“I was quite shocked at how similar electrons hitting the Earth’s atmosphere sound to bird song. Collectively, it is surprising to hear that space has an almost animalistic quality to its sounds which I have been quite struck by,” Williams said in a statement.

“By transposing sounds recorded by satellites into the audible range, I have been able to present the data as audio, providing a glimpse of what space would sound like if we were there and if the sounds generated were in our audible range.”

To gather the sound of the electrons hitting the Earth’s atmosphere, Andrew recorded data taken by the Cluster II satellite on July 9, 2001. This data has been used to create a new audio composition entitled “Chorus,” which reveals the rising-frequency tones caused by electrons.

“The sound is what inspired me - once I had started to create audio from space data I wanted to find a way of presenting it. Much of the data comes from Satellites (in particular Cluster II) and it seemed natural to find the exact location of this when the data was collected. I then realized that the trajectories of satellites created a transfixing and beautiful visual landscape. It also shows how much—or little—of space we currently colonize,” Williams said.

The European Space Agency’s (ESA) Soho spacecraft helped Andrew compose the sound of plasma passing through the sun. Soho helped record a deep pulsing sound that was caused by bubbles emanating from within the star.

Williams has been looking into different ways to explain this research to the public. Last month, he presented the sounds of space in an exhibition entitled “Trajectory” at Embrace Arts, the University of Leicester’s arts center.

“People have reacted to these recordings in very different ways. There have been quite a few people who have been happy to just sit and absorb the sounds and a glimpse into a part of space they would not normally have access to,” Andrew said.