Laying down the pulsar beat

By Phil Plait | December 20, 2011 7:00 am

A few years back, when I was working on using NASA satellite data to create educational materials for kids, we had this idea of using the steady beats from pulsars in a song. Pulsars are the rapidly-spinning über-dense fantastically-magnetic collapsed cores of exploded stars. As they spin, they emit beams of matter and energy that sweep out into space much like a lighthouse beam, and we see a blip of light when that beam passes over us.

Some pulsars spin hundreds of times per second, some take several seconds to spin once. If you take that pulse of light and translate it into sound, you get a very steady thumping beat with very precise timing. So making it into a song is a natural thought.

But we certainly didn’t take it as far as the German band Reimhaus did, making a music video out of it! They used several pulsars for their song "Echoes, Silence, Pulses & Waves". So here’s the cosmic beat:

Pretty clever. Lots of other people have turned cosmic phenomena into sounds and music, including the Perseid meteor shower, the Phoenix Mars Lander descent, the Earth’s aurorae, and even the aurorae from Saturn!

Image credit: NASA. Tip o’ the magnetar to Elkin Fricke for sending me the link to the video.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, Geekery

Comments (11)

Links to this Post

  1. Cosas de Pulsars | Pablo Della Paolera | December 20, 2011
  1. Pete Jackson

    This is definitely something we should be beaming out to interstellar space to show the accomplishments of our civilization!

    Nice time-lapse of a planetarium.

  2. fj

    And don’t forget the Wheel of Stars. It’s more sound than music, but quite fascinating.

  3. Dr_cy_coe

    This.. is.. awesome!
    Kids will love this, especially from 1:42 onwards. If there’s a better way to get kids appreciative of science than through interstellar fart-noises, I don’t know what that could be. :)

  4. VJBinCT

    Back in 1968, as a grad student, my NASA boss was a visiting prof at Berkeley, so we had access to the 120″ at Lick. I was there once a day early, and a group from one of the UC schools got some time to look at the pulsar in the Crab in video. I tagged along. They put a video camera with frame strobe at the coude focus, and synced it to the period of the pulsar, as you would a flashlamp stroboscope. Truly awesome to see the 30 Hz pulsar at 1-2 Hz. I think that I was probably one of the first half dozen or so people to see a pulsar pulsing by eye in ‘real time’. Had a really good time as a grad student, I must say. Some adventures, but this was the best scientific one.

  5. Chris

    @2 Dr_cy_coe
    LOL. They should make that a ring tone. You’d always be saying, “No, it’s a pulsar, really”

  6. Tara Li

    And apparently, even the bands playing on pulsars occasionally have break-ups and re-union tours!

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn21304

  7. Maagaard

    Here is the sound from 5 pulsars…
    Even though I know the physics going on i still find it quite eerie.

    Please ignote cheesy art in video.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gb0P6x_xDEU

  8. Mike

    It’s the bee’s knees!

  9. Jabjabs

    Well at least they now have the biggest known drummer working for them. :)

  10. Awesome^10. Not sure many will a be able to appreciate, though.

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