Turns out There IS Sound in Space, and It Sounds Like Your Worst Nightmare!
Cool, one more thing for me to be terrified of!
Most of us grew up with the commonsense wisdom that in space, no one can hear you scream. This knowledge was very important for us to have, because you never knew when you might suddenly find yourself trying to communicate with someone out in the vacuum of the endless void. You didn’t want to be the shmuck who learned the hard way that sound can only exist when it has a medium to travel through, like oxygen.
But now, apparently not content with demoting Pluto from planet to planetoid, scientists are announcing that everything we thought we knew about space was wrong. Apparently, some parts of space are filled with enough gas that sound waves can actually travel through them. And the sound they produce is terrifying!
“Misconception.” Okay, NASA, NOW you tell us. What next? Jupiter isn’t actually made of gas? The sun is actually really cold? It’s almost as if our understanding of the universe evolves as scientists access new data! Sheesh!
Anyway, the science behind this nightmarish soundscape is actually super cool. According to this information page at NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory, the sound you can hear the above tweet is a sonification of the black hole at the center of the Perseus galaxy cluster. Galaxy clusters are pretty much what they sound like: regions of space containing hundreds or thousands of densely-packed galaxies, plus lots of gas and dark matter. They’re so full that sound can travel through them.
To produce the sonification of the Perseus cluster, researchers at the Chandra X-Ray Center recorded pressure waves coming out of the black hole and then translated that data into a note. The note is far too low for human ears to pick up, though, so the team scaled it up about 57 octaves to put it within human hearing range. They then mixed it with other data from the black hole to produce the soundscape.
The sonification was originally produced as part of NASA’s Black Hole Week (yes, that’s a thing, and the world is better for it!), which ran from May 2-6 this year. The effort was led by visualization scientist Kimberly Arcand, astrophysicist Matt Russo, and musician Andrew Santaguida.
And for those of us who, for some reason only our therapists understand, love the niche genre of space horror, the sonification confirms what we’ve known all along. Alien and Event Horizon were 100% correct, and space is a terrifying purgatory of mind-bending dread. People can hear you scream in space if you do it in a galaxy cluster. You’ve been warned.
(image: 20th Century Studios)
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