What Does A Star Sound Like?

Assuming you could withstand the heat
Bang! Supernova SN 2006gy
Nasa/CXC/M. Weiss

Observing a star up close (putting aside for a moment how you’d get there or withstand its heat) is probably like sitting beside an enormous silent fire. Sounds—which are simply pressure variations in a medium such as air or water—can’t propagate in the vacuum of space, so the roiling surface of a star would make an impression on the eyes, but not the ears.

A supernova would sound like 10 octillion two-megaton nuclear bombs exploding.A supernova, however, just might be the most brutal concert in the universe. When a star explodes, the massive detonation expels stellar material far into space, and that matter could theoretically provide a medium through which sound vibrations might travel. Assuming you survived the blast—the initial shock wave would travel up to 20,000 miles per second and carry 1044 joules of energy—it would sound like “10 octillion two-megaton thermonuclear devices detonated simultaneously,” says Charles Liu, an astrophysicist at the City University of New York College of Staten Island. “When those guts hit your eardrums, you’ll hear it. That is, as long as your eardrums stay attached.”

This article originally appeared in the October 2009 issue of Popular Science_ magazine._