Mesmerizing visualization of a geomagnetic storm

By Phil Plait | December 7, 2011 12:00 pm

When the Sun belches out an eructation of subatomic particles, they can travel across the solar system and interact with the Earth’s magnetic field. This can make our field ring like a bell, shaking the particles trapped within, and generating electromagnetic noise and signals across the radio spectrum. The CARISMA radio array can detect these emissions and learn about how the Sun’s and Earth’s fields interact.

That’s the science. But there’s art here, too: the Lighthouse agency commissioned artists to create digital artwork based on science, and one group, Semiconductor, used the CARISMA data to do so. Based on the data, they translated the radio waves (which are like the light we see, but less energetic) and converted them to sound. This has been done many times before, but what’s cool is that they then created an animation based on the converted sounds, an astonishing and odd and mesmerizing animation. Watch:

How wild is that? It reminds me of the movie "Forbidden Planet". The vibrating patterns are wonderful, and while I’m not sure how much scientific insight can be gained from them, the aesthetics are riveting. And I can hope the underlying purpose of this will be seen: to show that science is beauty, science is art, and that if this gets someone who might not otherwise be interested to poke a little further into it, then mission accomplished.


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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, Geekery, Science

Comments (26)

  1. Chris A.

    Bummer–our company’s firewall blocks everything from Vimeo, and it seems like more and more cool stuff is showing up there nowadays. :(

  2. BJN

    Very cool find.

    I disagree that science is art. Science is beautiful, to be sure. But art is a human filtering and imaginative way of presenting information in compelling ways. This video scores high for artistic merit, but it doesn’t describe or explain the underlying science at all. This would just be a really cool screensaver without the text explanation that accompanies it.

  3. Beer Case

    These sounds reminded me of another, more recent movie, Jurassic Park! The scene where Nedry gets attacked by a Dilophosaurus:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d921M-ACMM4

  4. Patrick

    If you like electromagnetic radio recordings, you might like Stephen McGreevey’s stuff:

    http://www.archive.org/details/ird062

    His web page is http://www.auroralchorus.com/

  5. What is it that we’re actually seeing? Sand grains on a trampoline? Iron filings? what medium are they using to turn the audio capture into the visuals? i’m trying to get my mind around the material, but like Penn & Teller on “fool us” I feel completely bamboozled!

  6. BJN – Science here is inspiring art. In turn, art inspires minds, and this is just one more way to get people interested in studying natural phenomena. I’m all for this kind of art-making. I want to see more.

  7. THULL

    Is this from Eraserhead?

  8. Colin McMillan

    If you don’t look at the visuals and just listen, its amazing how much it sounds like rain, wind and thunder (except for the warbling 60’s spaceship sounds).

    Its interesting how even patterns in events repeat at different scales: how what we think of as macro (a thunderstorm) turns micro when viewed from a planetary scale.

    Made my day…

    Thanks!

  9. Chip

    The Forbidden Planet music was also inspired (and derived) from Nature. Louis and BeBe Baron took natural sounds (a Lion’s roar was one) and interpolated them with pre-synthesizer, early electronic echo and tape loop effects. It is still quite an effective score.

  10. Patrick

    “What is it that we’re actually seeing? Sand grains on a trampoline? Iron filings? what medium are they using to turn the audio capture into the visuals? i’m trying to get my mind around the material, but like Penn & Teller on “fool us” I feel completely bamboozled!”

    Probably CGI generated from the sound spectrum.

  11. Dr.Sid

    Imho the picture is computer generated. Still I see no clear algorithm which could lead to something like this. I guess it was some ‘creative’ approach. Like for example those circular patterns .. human said where it should be on the picture, sound provided the ripples.

  12. Rim

    Paul – I’d say it’s a CGI visualization, the gridlines at 2:10 would be particularly hard to do with sand :)

  13. Thomas

    The last bit reminds me of the brain wave scans in “Akira”.

  14. David Vanderschel

    After viewing the video, I was curious to see how the data had been plotted in hopes of understanding the surprising artifacts – like the concentric circles which accompanied some of the coherent sounds (whooshes or whistling ). I expected to find such an explanation or a link to one in the following text; but I was disappointed to find nothing. Since it is such an obvious question, I figured that someone would have offered a pointer in the comments here. Still, no joy! As far as I am concerned, in the absence of any specification of the algorithm(s) used to plot the data, there is no science at all here. You might be able to get similar dynamic plots from lots of other sources for semi-random time sequence data. I don’t even know if the video combines data from multiple receivers in the CARISMA array.

  15. Chris

    Reminded me of the Star Trek:TNG episode “The Dauphin” when Wesley was on the holodeck and he said “the resonance from the neutrino clouds will become synchronous.” OK scientific gibberish, but sounded similar.

  16. Neat different idea. :-)

    Just goes to show there’s an art to science and some science to art! :-)

  17. Brian Too

    The images remind me a lot of the output we see from atomic force microscopes. There also appears to be some particle/wave duality going on, although that could be an artifact of the imaging technique.

  18. Cheers, Patrick, cheers, Rim! Yes I saw the grid lines, but I initially thought they might have been projected from some grid-paper or perspex surface underneath. Obviously I was over-thinking! CG plugin generating a particle system, then rendered with an occlusion pass and film grain certainly sounds about right.

  19. Messier Tidy Upper

    Thinking of mesmerizing visualizations fusing art and science, how about this youtube video combining a Pink Floyd song with astronomical videos, animations and themes? :

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Leo74b3rqXQ&feature=related

    Or this one :

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DLOth-BuCNY&feature=endscreen&NR=1

    with some hints of time lapse and the LHC and scenic volcano overflights. Some fabulously beautiful audio-visual combo work there. :-)

    Plus this :

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-zvCUmeoHpw

    which again features Pink Floyd and has a rather sizeable impact! ;-)

    Hpe its okay to post these here and y’all enjoy ‘em. :-)

  20. Russ Brown

    Some bits remind me of Quatermass and the Pit.
    Especially just over 1 minute in, it looks like the recovered memory of the little marching cricket-alien-thingies!

  21. Robin

    I imagine one way to do this would be to represent the sound in terms of some kind of amplitude area plot and then Fourier transform the info and normalize the transformed plot to gray scale values.

  22. pavium

    I also thought of Jurassic park when I heard this.

    Apart from those noises, I could hear the sounds of wind, rain and thunder — but then it was supposed to be a storm.

    Interesting, though, that they would call themselves ‘semiconductor’.

  23. Maybe this was what Spock was looking at when he used to peer into that blue light thing on the original Enterprise.

  24. Eric

    Very… 50s sci fi. Expected to see “The CREATURE from BEYOND MARS!” (or maybe just a nice “Outer Limits!”) show up at some point :)

    Interesting, nonetheless.

  25. Uhclem

    This makes me want to watch the ending of Altered States, then watch the ending of 2001: A Space Odyssey, then watch this. Oh, and maybe a little psilocybin before I start…

  26. Chris Winter

    Interesting. But the sound patterns don’t seem to relate strongly to the visuals, until 3:30.

    “But there’s art here, too: the Lighthouse agency commissioned artists to create digital artwork based on science, and one group, Semiconductor, used the CARISMA data to do so. Based on the data, they translated the radio waves (which are like the light we see, but less energetic) and converted them to sound. This has been done many times before…”

    I wonder how this compares to the work of Dr. Fiorella Terenzi (which I’ve never heard.)

    http://www.chris-winter.com/Erudition/Reviews/_Xotericus/F_Terenzi/Fiorella.html

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