The 34 seconds clamp set social media on fire, with many people stunned that anything, let alone what sounds like a creepy, guttural sound, can escape a black hole.
But the idea that there is no sound in space is actually a “popular misconception,” the agency said. Although most of space is a vacuum, with no medium for sound waves to travel through, a cluster of galaxies has “abundant amounts of gas that envelop the hundreds or even thousands of galaxies within it and provide a medium for the sound waves to travel,” it said. stated.
The misconception that there is no sound in space stems from the fact that most space is a vacuum, which prevents sound waves from traveling. A cluster of galaxies contains so much gas that we have actually picked up sound. Here it is amplified and mixed with other data to hear a black hole! pic.twitter.com/RobcZs7F9e
— NASA Exoplanets (@NASAExoplanets) August 21, 2022
The clip, which NASA described as a “Black Hole Remix,” was first released in early May to coincide with NASA’s Black Hole Week — but a tweet Sunday by the NASA exoplanets team looks really good, with the clip which was viewed over 13 million times.
The sound waves were discovered in 2003, when researchers at NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory, after 53 hours of observation, found that pressure waves emitted by the black hole caused ripples in the cluster’s hot gas that could be translated into a note. ”
But people couldn’t hear that note because the frequency was too low — the equivalent of a B-flat, some 57 octaves below the middle C note of a piano, according to NASA. So astronomers in Chandra remixed the sound and increased the frequency by 57 and 58 octaves. “Another way of saying this is that they are heard 144 quadrillion and 288 quadrillion times higher than their original frequency,” NASA said.
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Kimberly Arcand, the sonification project’s lead researcher, said when she first heard the sound in late 2021 — what she described as “a wonderful Hans Zimmer score with the moody level at a really high level” — she jumped with excitement.
“It was such a beautiful representation of what existed in my mind,” the visualization scientist and emerging technology leader at Chandra told The Washington Post. But it was also a “tipping point” for the sonication program as a whole, because it “sparked people’s imaginations,” she said.
It also points to future areas of research. “The idea that there are supermassive black holes scattered across the universe that are … erupting incredible songs is a very tantalizing thing,” Arcand added.
A deep voice from deep space
Experts have warned that the sound in NASA’s remix isn’t exactly what you would hear if you were somehow next to a black hole. Human ears would not be “sensitive enough to pick up those sound waves,” Michael Smith, an astronomy professor at the University of Kent in England, told The Post. “But they’re there, they’re the right kind of frequency, and if we boosted it … we could hear it,” Smith said. He compared it to a radio – “you turn up the volume, the volume is higher, then you can hear it.”
Arcand said the idea took shape during the coronavirus pandemic. She had worked on converting X-ray light captured by Chandra’s orbiting telescope into images, including creating 3D models that could be printed to give people with low or low vision access to that data. When the pandemic hit, that program became difficult to maintain remotely.
So she and other colleagues decided to try something new: sonication, or the process of translating astronomical data into sound. The team was made up of experts who are blind and inspired Arcand to “think differently” about the value of translating complex data sets into sound.
Looking at 2003 data on the Perseus galaxy cluster, she and colleagues worked to determine the properties of the pressure waves and infer the sound they would produce, then increased their frequency.
The decision to release the “resonification” of the nearly two-decade-old data is part of the agency’s efforts to use social media to communicate complex scientific discoveries in plain English to its millions of followers.
Through a partnership with Twitter, NASA found that “while fans enjoyed stunning images of space and behind-the-scenes missions, there was a group of people who also wanted to know what space sounded like.” company wrote in a press release.
Some experts said the clip was confusing because it gave the impression that the sound was “somehow what you’d hear if you were there,” Chris Lintott, a professor of astrophysics at the University of Oxford, wrote Tuesday on Twitter – as if you have a recording device that translates the sound directly from the galaxy cluster to Earth.
“Sonicating data is fun and can be helpful, especially for those who may not be able to see images. But it’s sometimes used to make things look ‘deeper’ than they are, like here,” Lintott added.
But Smith, a professor at the University of Kent, said: “It makes perfect sense to say that there are sound waves” [in the galaxy cluster]and if we were there we could hear them if we had sensitive ears enough.”
Still, he acknowledged that “these clusters of galaxies are so far away that they have to make a lot of assumptions to convert it into what we might hear if we were there.”
Arcand said she understood criticism from some quarters that sonication risks oversimplifying a complex process — especially since the mix of pressure, heat and gas that makes the sound waves in the Perseus galaxy possible are specific to that environment. But the value of sonification, she said, is that it made her “question things in different ways.”
“It’s an excellent representation of science, in my opinion, and a rather terrifying sound!” Carole Mundell, head of astrophysics at the University of Bath in England, told The Post via email.
Supermassive black hole seen in the center of our galaxy
The project, and NASA’s tweets about it, appear to have accomplished the space agency’s mission of sharing its science and research with the general public in a conversational manner — though not everyone was a fan of the black hole’s remixed sounds.
Online, people seemed both excited and terrified by it, making colorful equations to the Lord of the Rings and Silent Hill series.