Listen to solar storm activity in new sonification video

Mar 14, 2012 by Nicole Casal Moore
An active region on the sun, seen above as the bright spot to the right, has been moving across the face of the sun from left to right since March 2, 2012. Image credit: NASA/SDO/AIA

(PhysOrg.com) -- What does a solar storm sound like?  It's a "sonification" of measurements from two spacecraft during the most recent storm. Take a listen in this video.

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This sonification of the recent solar storm activity turns data from two spacecraft into sound. It uses measurements from the NASA SOHO spacecraft and the University of Michigan's Fast Imaging Plasma Spectrometer (FIPS) on NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft at Mercury. The creator is Robert Alexander, a design science doctoral student at the University of Michigan and NASA fellow.

The researcher who created it is Robert Alexander, a University of Michigan design science doctoral student. Alexander is a composer with a NASA fellowship to study how representing information as sound could aid in data mining.

For this project he used data from U-M's Fast Imaging Plasma Spectrometer instrument on NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft at Mercury, as well as from NASA's Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, which is about 1 million miles from the Earth.

To sonify the data, he began by writing 90 hours' worth of raw information to an audio waveform. But in its original sampling rate of 44,100 hertz, it played back in less than a quarter of a second. That's one of the benefits of sonifying data. You can zip through days' worth of information in an instant. To make sense of it, in this case, he had to run it through additional algorithms and find the right playback speed.

"This approach is changing the timescale for us," said Jim Raines, a lead mission operations engineer in U-M's Space Physics Research Lab. "It's really interesting to hear it."

is the process of translating information into sound. It is used in Geiger counter radiation detectors, which emit clicks in the presence of high-energy particles. It's not typically used to pick out patterns in information, but scientists on the U-M Solar and Heliospheric Research Group are exploring its potential in that realm. They're looking to Alexander to make it possible.

"Robert is giving us another research tool," Raines said. "We're used to looking at wiggly-line plots and graphs, but humans are very good at hearing things. We wonder if there's a way to find things in the data that are difficult to see."

Alexander has been developing this technique for several years. Late last year, his approach led to a new discovery. It turns out that a particular ratio of carbon atoms that scientists had not previously keyed in to can reveal more about the source of the solar wind than the ratios of elements they currently rely on. The solar wind is a squall of hot plasma, or charged particles, continuously emanating from the sun.

With this technique, Alexander hopes to build a bridge between science and art.

"For a while, movies were silent and people just accepted that that's the way it is," he said. "There's all this high res footage of what's happening on the surface of the sun, and it's silent. I'm creating a soundtrack."

Explore further: Curiosity brushes 'Bonanza king' target anticipating fourth red planet rock drilling

More information: Read the paper in the Astrophysical Journal at iopscience.iop.org/0004-637X/744/2/100/

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User comments : 2

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Telekinetic
1 / 5 (1) Mar 14, 2012
Sounds better than a lot of modern music.
Tausch
1 / 5 (1) Mar 19, 2012
Sonification is the process of translating information into sound.


Information theory is basically a description of energy distribution.

The energy (particles of a 'solar storm') impinges on both spacecraft.

The response of the spacecraft is to record the oscillatory behavior exhibited by the impinging particles.

(A less jargon-burdened explanation to what others call a spectral analysis of energies and/or densities the particles form and carry.)

Of course one of the 'oscillatory behavior's 'hallmarks' is called frequency - corresponding to the varying energies the particles represent - NASA gets to color code those frequencies just as Robert gets to audio code (assign mechanical frequencies) to the colored coded frequencies...hence the word: 'translation' use in the above article.

Congratulations Robert.

The sun is acoustic. Fission, fusion, and even sonofusions all have auditory/spectral signatures.

Space prevents the "harmony of the spheres" from being heard.