Kepler Telescope star data creates musical melody

Jun 12, 2012

Why stop at the dark side of the moon to make music when you can look thousands of light years into space? That's what a team of Georgia Tech researchers have done, using data from two stars in our galaxy to create sounds for a national recording artist.

Over the years, researchers in Georgia Tech's Sonification Lab (SonLab) have converted numerical data into sounds to analyze stock market prices, election results and . When the reggae/rock band Echo Movement called wanting to turn the movements of into music, SonLab looked to the heavens.

"The Sonification Lab receives a lot of requests to convert scientific data into sound, but this one was truly unique," said School of Psychology Professor Bruce Walker. "It's not often that we have a chance to help an actual star compose music."

Although pitches, tempos and rhythms could be created and tweaked, the band insisted that the finished product remain true to all data and feature a musically appealing, "heavenly" sound. With those restrictions in place, the musicians and Walker's team of students went to work with existing data gathered by NASA's Kepler telescope. Focused on a binary star (Kepler 4665989), Kepler recorded its brightness levels for more than a year. The star dimmed and brightened each time its crossed its path, providing varying brightness measurements.

"Those numerical values were loaded into our Sonification Sandbox software to create sequences of sonified musical pitches," said Riley Winton, a psychology student and leader of the project. "The process put us on the right track. When the band reviewed it and requested timbres instead of pitches, we audified the data.

In other words, the team played the varying brightness levels as waveforms to create a different sound. The lab then cleaned the signal and removed some of the ambient sound before sending audio pitches to the band. Echo Movement looped the sounds and composed them into a four-part harmony.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.
The melody

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.
The song intro

For the final step, the students used a different (Kepler 10291683) to adjust the timbre even further by adding a tremolo effect. This created a shuddered, natural sound rather than a flat, computerized noise.

The final result is a melody that will be used in the intro of Echo Movement's song "Love and the Human Outreach," which will be released in September.

"People have made music with space sounds before, but largely using pulsars and space events that can be recorded in the radio spectrum. We wanted something completely off the chart," said band member David Fowler, who was encouraged by Edna DeVore at the SETI Institute to look at the Kepler Mission. "Discovering planets around other stars is a relatively new science worthy of everyone's attention and digs deep at the core of humanity's most basic quest to orient itself in reality," he said.

The Georgia Tech team will present the sonification process at the International Conference on Auditory Display (ICAD) in Atlanta June 18 – 21, 2012.

The project's goal, to create an authentic, aesthetic sound, was a success. The melody is further proof that can be a valuable tool when working with large data sets.

"Sound is the best pattern recognition tool we have," said Walker. "Instead of visually scanning through a long list of numbers, looking for patterns or random occurrences, sometimes it's easier to create an audio file and listen for them. Very interesting patterns can often be discovered by using sound."

Explore further: NIST removes cryptography algorithm from random number generator recommendations

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

DISSCO makes 'music' for Argonne, UIUC researchers

Jun 21, 2005

A mathematician and a musician have teamed up to create a new computer program that both composes music and creates the instrumentation to play it. The software is available for free from SourceForge.net.

Scientists listen to the sun in new sonification project

Feb 26, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Scientists can now listen to a set of solar wind data that's usually represented visually, as numbers or graphs. University of Michigan researchers have “sonified” the data. They've created ...

Physicists simulate sounds of the Higgs boson (w/ Video)

Jun 23, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- If particle physicists ever find the Higgs boson, they might be hearing its signature rather than - or in addition to - seeing it. The different sounds that particles make can give physicists ...

Recommended for you

UN study: Cellphones can improve literacy

6 hours ago

A study by the U.N. education agency says cellphones are getting more and more people to read in countries where books are rare and illiteracy is high.

Gates-funded student data group to shut down

Apr 21, 2014

The head of a student data processing organization says it will shut down in the coming months following criticism that led to the recent loss of its last active client—New York state.

Four questions about missing Malaysian plane answered

Apr 19, 2014

Travelers at Asian airports have asked questions about the March 8 disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 while en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Here are some of them, followed by answers.

User comments : 0

More news stories

Amazon Prime wins streaming deal with HBO

Amazon scored a deal Wednesday to distribute old shows from premium cable TV channel HBO to its monthly Prime subscribers, landing a blow on rival Netflix in the streaming video battle.

Is nuclear power the only way to avoid geoengineering?

"I think one can argue that if we were to follow a strong nuclear energy pathway—as well as doing everything else that we can—then we can solve the climate problem without doing geoengineering." So says Tom Wigley, one ...