NASA Scientists Study The Sun By Listening To It

Avert thy gaze!

Solar Activity From August 1st, 2010
NASA, via Wikimedia Commons

What's the fastest way to understand space? According to NASA, it's listening to the music of the spheres displayed as actual music. A program that converts astronomical data into sound is letting researchers blaze through years of data with ease. At NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, University of Michigan doctoral candidate Robert Alexander listens to audio files made from satellite data. The Wind spacecraft sits between Earth and the Sun, and records changes in the Sun's magnetic field. Here's how that becomes sound:

When a person sings into a microphone, it detects changes in pressure and converts the pressure signals to changes in magnetic intensity in the form of an electrical signal. The electrical signals are stored on the reel tape. Magnetometers on the Wind satellite measure changes in magnetic field directly creating a similar kind of electrical signal. Alexander writes a computer program to translate this data to an audio file.

This mostly translates to white noise, but when there's something anomalous, Alexander can hear it happen and make note of where in the file it happened. And Alexander isn't the only one using data this way. In fact, he's training other physicists who study the sun how to be active listeners. A similar project, onomatopoetically dubbed "PEEP," wants to use sound as a monitoring tool, turning network activity into a gentle chorus of bird sounds, interrupted by frog croaks at the first sign of trouble.

Listen to a reverse shockwave headed toward the Sun below, and read more at NASA: