Sonification of Stephan’s Quintet galaxy group sounds almost like The Beatles

Jun 27, 2023

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

Sonification of Stephan’s Quintet galaxy group sounds almost like The Beatles

Jun 27, 2023

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

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We’ve heard amazing sonifications of space images before, and if you ask me – it’s always a treat to hear a new one. Astronomers and visualization specialists have now teamed up to create a unique sensory experience of Stephan’s Quintet, a compact group of galaxies. Using data from NASA’s space telescopes, they have crafted a captivating video and sonifications to explore this galactic wonder. It sounds a bit like the late The Beatles. :)

[Related reading: Astronomy Photographer of the Year reveals stellar 2023 shortlists]

What is sonification anyway?

First things first: what is sonification? Put very simply, it means turning visual material into sound. Sonification uses sound instead of pictures to show information or data. In some cases, it shows time, space, loudness, and pitch more clearly than images, and it can be used instead of or with pictures.

In this case, researchers across several institutions teamed up to turn space photos into sound. They used data gathered by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, Spitzer Space Telescope, Chandra X-ray Observatory, and James Webb Space Telescope. Other than sonification, they also created a captivating video showing Stephan’s Quintet in all its glory.

The visual tour of Stephan’s Quintet

The five-minute video takes viewers on a guided 3D tour of Stephan’s Quintet, revealing distinctive features of each galaxy and their gravitational interactions. By observing different types of light across the electromagnetic spectrum, from infrared to X-rays, we gain insights into this complex group’s structure. Take a look:

YouTube video

The sound of Stephan’s Quintet

Sonifications translate scientific data into sound, creating an auditory experience. Each audio track is synchronized with the corresponding 2D image, offering a fresh perspective on the galaxies. Instruments represent different objects, such as the synthetic glass marimba for background galaxies and crash cymbals for stars with diffraction spikes.

The team took different images of Stephan’s Quintet and turned their data into sound. They played with the sounds of background and foreground only, the Quintet only, and the X-ray image only – the last one sounds like something straight out of the Upside Down. The one where all image elements are sonified sounds like something The Beatles recorded in the later days of their career. Revolution 9, or the reversed guitar from I’m Only Sleeping.

YouTube video
YouTube video
YouTube video
YouTube video

These sensory experiences, part of NASA’s Universe of Learning program, make astronomy accessible to a broader audience. They enable us to not only see but also hear the distant parts of our universe, fostering a deeper understanding and appreciation for the Universe. If you enjoyed Stephan’s Quintet sonifications, here are a few more:

For more NASA sonifications, check out the links below:

[via Space.com; image credits: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI]

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Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

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