Space produces some otherworldly sounds–black hole songs, Martian dust tornadoes, and meteorites crashing into the Red Planet to name a few. Now, NASA has released three new sonifications of images taken from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and other telescopes.

The new sonifications highlight different celestial objects observed by NASA telescopes.

[Related: NASA turns spectacular space telescope images into vibey ‘cosmic sonifications.’]

What is sonification?

Sonification translates data into sound. Scientific data is collected by Chandra and other space telescopes as digital signals that are usually turned into the dazzling visuals that we see on Earth. Sonification takes that information and maps it into sound. 

According to NASA, the sonification scans data from one side to the other and each wavelength is mapped out to a different range of tones that our ears can hear. The light of objects is pitched higher and the intensity of the light controls the volume. Radio waves are given the lowest tones, the medium tones are visible data, and the X-rays have the highest tones. 

MSH 11-52–The Cosmic Hand

The first sonification is of MSH 11-52. This is a supernova remnant that is releasing a large cloud of energized particles that looks somewhat like a human hand. It’s estimated that light from this supernova reached Earth roughly 1,700 years ago. The supernova is seen and heard here using data from Chandra, NASA’s Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE), and ground-based optical data.

Space Telescope photo

M74–The Phantom Galaxy

This sonification features M74, which is a spiral galaxy like our Milky Way. It is about 3.2 million light-years away from earth in the constellation Pisces. Spiral galaxies like these typically have a rotating disc with spiral ‘arms’ that curve out from a dense central region. This sonification combines data taken with NASA’s James Webb and Hubble Space Telescopes and X-rays from Chandra.

Space Telescope photo

IC 443–The Jellyfish Nebula

The third sonification trio IC 443, nicknamed the Jellyfish Nebula. This nebula is about 5,000 light years away and is the expanding debris cloud from a very large star that exploded. The light from this supernova reached planet Earth more than 30,000 years ago. The data in this sonification include X-rays from Chandra and the now-retired German ROSAT mission. It also uses  radio data from NSF’s Very Large Array and optical data from the Digitized Sky Survey.

Space Telescope photo

NASA’s sonification project began in 2020 and built off of other Chandra projects aimed at reaching blind and visually-impaired audiences. A new documentary, Listen to the Universe, is   now available on NASA+ and explores how these sonifications are created and tells the story of the team that makes them possible. 

[Related: Listen: Meteoroids make little ‘bloop’ noises when crashing into Mars.]

“Sonifications add a new dimension to stunning space imagery, and make those images accessible to the blind and low-vision community for the first time,” Liz Landau, who leads multimedia efforts for NASA’s Astrophysics Division at NASA Headquarters, said in a statement. “I was honored to help tell the story of how Dr. Arcand and the System Sounds team make these unique sonic experiences and the broad impact those sonifications have had.”