Via reddit (if you’re a redditor, go there and upboat!) I found a very interesting use of astronomical data in music. The composer [Update: Astronomer Alex Parker created this!] took the orbital information from the six-planet system called Kepler 11 and codified it into musical notes! From the YouTube notes:
Here, I’ve taken each transit seen by the observatory and assigned a pitch and volume to it. The pitch (note) is determined by the planet’s distance from its star (closer=higher), and they are drawn from a minor 11 chord. The volume is determined by the size of the planet (larger=louder).
The result is actually quite listenable!
That’s lovely, and oddly compelling. It’s like the notes are trying to reach some sort of coherence, straining to achieve a melody, but don’t quite make it. I find this interesting: after listening, and without having to check, I knew the planets weren’t in orbital resonance.
A resonance is when one planet’s orbit is a simple fraction of another’s; for example, one planet might circle the star every 2 days, and the next one out in 4 days. Resonances take many ratios, like 3:2, or 5:3. The planets in Kepler-11 don’t do this (though two of them are near a 5:4 resonance). If they did, then eventually the sonata’s melody, such as it is, would repeat. But I didn’t get a sense of that listening to it.
Isn’t that amazing? You can take data using light, convert it to sound, and actually be able to get insight into it. In this case, of course, you could just make a spreadsheet with the planetary periods in it and start dividing away, but that’s no fun!
Perhaps this is just an oddity with no real impact. But I wonder. We convert data into charts and graphs so that we can look for trends, correlations, compare one datum to another visually. In a sense — haha, "sense"! — this is just another case of that, appealing to hearing instead of sight. I’m not a musician per se* so I don’t know if this method has real use or not.
But it’s still cool. And rather pleasant, don’t you think?
* 20+ years of playing bass trombone may be used to argue my musicianship either way, I suspect.
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.
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.
When I was in high school I was a marching band dork. Shocker, I know. But let me tell you something: we were good. Very good. We won a lot of competitions, and we hosted a drum and bugle corps competition at our school that pulled in the best from around the country. To this day, all these decades later, it’s still the loudest thing I have ever heard.
We humans have incredible talents: imagination, cleverness, dexterity, and musical abilities that are truly astonishing. Don’t believe me? Then behold:
Un. Flipping. Believable.
Those guys have major talent. Watch the bit from 4:50 to 5:10 again, and call those guys dorks. Holy mackerel, they rock.
Tip o’ the chapeau to Fark.
What we would do without Twitter? If not for that 140 character service, I never would have found out that Dr. Chaotica wrote and performed a song called "Death from the Skies!", based on what is considered by some (OK, just me) to be the finest book to come out in 2008 (and 2009 in paperback).
I’m more of an ABBA and Shostakovich guy, but I have to admit I found my toe tapping to this happy tune of death and destruction from space.
This is surprisingly cool and pleasant to listen to.
I wonder what Sagan would’ve thought of this?
Tip o’ the elbow-patched corduroy jacket to the dozens of people who tweeted and emailed this, though BABloggee Ryan Romo was first.