Music of the spheres

By Phil Plait | July 24, 2011 7:00 am

Alex Parker is an astronomy PhD student at the University of Victoria, and had a neat idea: create music based on 241 supernovae found in a three-year-long survey of the sky. The data were from the Canada-France-Hawaii-Telescope, and he made a video of the effort:

Each note represents one of the supernovae. The volume is based on the star’s distance, and the pitch based on how long it took the supernova to rise to maximum brightness and fade away — that’s tied to the exploding star’s total energy released, and was the key factor used to discover dark energy — together, they are combined into this "Supernova Sonata". Clever, and cool.

Speaking of which, I also got an email from Mike Lemmon of Neue Music. For a website called Experience the Planets, he created music I’d characterize as "atmospheric" — more tonal and ethereal than most synth music. I happen to like this kind of stuff, and I find myself listening to his "Planets" as I’m working. It’s not for everybody, I know, but if you like that kind of thing as I do you should give it a shot.

It’s available on iTunes, or you can go to the link above and listen while thumbing through some incredibly beautiful artwork of the planets.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, Miscellaneous

Comments (15)

  1. Jake Pember

    Saw/heard Supernova Sonata while ago and loved it.

    Experience the Planets is new to me, and absolutely brilliant! I can see myself listening to this for inspiration in the future.

    As a musician and composer myself, I really dig it when my love of music and astronomy come together in such amazing ways.

  2. A very ethereal sounding classical jazz vibe to it! Love it. :)

    These aren’t all in our galaxy, are they?

  3. SkyGazer

    Great video.
    Off topic:
    However. You can´t whistle in space. You’ll hear them humming…

  4. Magrathea

    I love experience the planets, been following them for 2+ years, it’s slowly coming but the music is ethereal and beautiful. Phil no doubt you might enjoy some Boards of Canada music as well.

    As for the Supernova Sonata, it’s haunting, I love it.

  5. This is pretty cool. Agreed. Im a music lover. So anything music is good. This was wicked. Definately loved the beginning when the music first starts.

  6. Jamey

    Haven’t you done thing one before? I’d swear it’s an old story.

  7. Sounds a bit like something I did a while ago based on (and called) “Pleiades”, and dedicated to you, Phil. The notes aren’t related to any specific astronomical values, but the effect is similar. Click on my name for the link, or hear it on Soundcloud:

  8. WJM

    And of course, there’s always:

  9. Alex Conley

    No, none of them were in our galaxy. The closest was about redshift 0.08,
    which is about 1 billion light years away, compared to the Milky Way which
    is about 100,000 light years across. The average is around redshift
    0.5 or so, about 5 billion light years (to be precise, those are the light travel
    times, so that’s how long ago the SNe happened; distances are bit complicated
    in cosmology).

  10. Can I recommend Perpetual Ocean’s Strangeness + Charm series, if you like this kind of music? He’s also working on a new animation/soundscape called Watching Europa that’s worth checking out.–music/music/strangeness–charm.html

  11. Here’s one a friend sent me the sound of Pi…

  12. Matt B.

    I presume the two instruments represent type I and type II supernovae.


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