Scientists create the music of the spheres

Scientists can now listen to a set of solar wind data that’s usually represented visually, as numbers or graphs.

The aim, they say, is to try to hear information that their eyes might have missed in solar wind speed and particle density data gathered by NASA’s Advanced Composition Explorer satellite.

The University of Michigan researchers have ‘sonified’ the data in the same way as Geiger counters emit clicks in the presence of high-energy particles.

“What makes this project different is the level of artistic license I was given,” said composer and recent U-M School of Music alumnus Robert Alexander.

The end result, which Alexander says is ‘in between art and science,’ incorporates tribal drum beats to represent the rotation of the sun, and the voice of a singer to represent the charge state of carbon atoms, for example.

“In this sonification, we can actually hear in the data when the temperature goes up, or when the density increases,” said Jason Gilbert, a research fellow in the Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences.

Unfortunately, the researchers didn’t detect new information in this initial experiment – one suspects Alexander was given just a bot too much artistic license.

“I am excited for sonification’s potential in research, but I think more work will need to be done to realize that potential,” said Jim Raines, research computer specialist with the Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences.