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NASA Has Sonified ‘Actual Sounds’ Produced by Gas Ripples Around a Black Hole and They’re Demonic


NASA scientists have sonified “actual sounds” from a distant black hole in the Perseus galaxy cluster thanks to pressure waves in its surrounding intergalactic gas.


In May of this year MIT astronomers found a way to “sonify” the “light echoes” coming from black holes within our Milky Way Galaxy with results that were equally interesting and disturbing. Now, scientists at NASA have sonified a black hole at the center of the Perseus galaxy cluster. But this time, thanks to the presence of immense amounts of intergalactic gas, the NASA scientists say they’ve recorded “actual sound” coming from the lightless region of spacetime. And, once again, it is not pleasant.

As NASA notes, this new sonification is, in some ways, “unlike any other done before… because it revisits the actual sound waves discovered in data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory.” Other sonifications of celestial objects usually only involve the translation of astronomical data (i.e. light recorded by the likes of the Hubble telescope, etc.) into sound. But in this instance, scientists had access to pressure waves sent out by the black hole through the galaxy cluster’s hot gas.

“The misconception that there is no sound in space originates because most space is a ~vacuum, providing no way for sound waves to travel,” NASA Exoplanets—the NASA team looking for planets and life beyond our solar system—wrote in a tweet describing the sonification. “A galaxy cluster has so much gas that we’ve picked up actual sound,” the team added.

To make the sonification, NASA notes on YouTube that sound waves astronomers previously identified as coming from the black hole at the center of Perseus were made audible to the human ear. While the pressure waves traveling through the intergalactic gas do indeed create literal sound waves, they’re 57 to 58 octaves too low for us to hear in their natural state. Consequently, the scientists needed to increase the sound waves an equal number of octaves for us to hear them—meaning the haunting sounds we all hear in this Perseus black hole sonification are between 144 quadrillion and 288 quadrillion times higher in frequency than their unmodified originals.

As for the results? Just like the sonification of the light echoes coming off the other black holes, this one is a haunting, sonic journey through a dark corner of Hell. (A very dark corner indeed.) As NASA notes, the sonification plays out via a radar-like scan allowing us to hear waves emitted in all different directions from the black hole. Each second of the soundtrack, unfortunately, sounds like tormented ghosts trapped in a death camp. Or some other such horror.

Thankfully, not all space sonifications are the audible equivalent of a trip through Satan’s basement. The sonification posted by NASA Exoplanets immediately above, for example, is gentle, harmonic, and soaring. Although not soaring enough to make one forget about what lightless beast roars fiendishly at the center of the Perseus cluster.


Feature image: NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center

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