September 26, 2022

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Hear What A Black Hole Looks Like – NASA’s New Black Hole Sound With Remix

As part of NASA’s Black Hole Week, two new sounds of known black holes have been released.

  • Two new sounds for known black holes have been released[{” attribute=””>NASA’s Black Hole Week.
  • The Perseus galaxy cluster was made famous because of sound waves detected around its black hole by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory in 2003.
  • Scanning like a radar around the image, the data have been resynthesized and scaled up by 57 and 58 octaves into the human hearing range.
  • For M87, listeners can hear representations of three different wavelengths of light — X-ray, optical, and radio — around this giant black hole.

The black hole at the center of the Galactic Cluster Perseus

Since 2003, the A black hole in the heart of the Perseus galaxy group associated with sound. That’s because astronomers have discovered that pressure waves emanating from the black hole created ripples in the cluster’s hot gas that can be translated into observation — humans can’t hear about 57 octaves below middle C. Now, new sonication is bringing more notes to this black hole punch. This new audio – translating astronomical data into sound – is being released on NASA’s 2022 Black Hole Week.


New sonication of the black hole at the center of the Perseus cluster of galaxies. Credit: NASA/CXC/SAO/K.Arcand, SYSTEM Sounds (M. Russo, A. Santaguida)

In some ways, this sonication is unlike anything else done before because it revisits actual sound waves detected in data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory. The common misconception that there is no sound in space arises from the fact that most of space is essentially a vacuum, and provides no means for sound waves to propagate through it. On the other hand, a galaxy cluster contains copious amounts of gas that envelop hundreds or even thousands of galaxies within, providing a medium for sound waves to travel.

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In this new sonication of Perseus, the sound waves previously identified by astronomers have been extracted and made audible for the first time. The sound waves were extracted in radial directions, i.e. outward from the center. The signals in the human auditory range were then recombined by raising them up by 57 and 58 octaves above the true pitch. Another way to put this is that it hears 144 quadrillion and 288 quadrillion times higher than its original frequency. (A quadrillion equals 1,000,000,000,000,000). Radar-like scanning around the image allows you to hear waves emitted in different directions. In the visible image of this data, both blue and violet show the X-ray data captured by Chandra.


New sonication of the black hole at the center of galaxy M87. Credit: NASA/CXC/SAO/K.Arcand, SYSTEM Sounds (M. Russo, A. Santaguida)

The black hole at the center of the Galaxy M87

In addition to the Perseus galaxy cluster, a new sonication of another famous black hole is being released. The black hole of Messier 87, or M87, has been studied by scientists for decades, and gained a celebrity status in science after the first release of the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) project in 2019. This new sound doesn’t display EHT data, but rather sounds in Data from other telescopes observed M87 at much wider ranges around the same time. Image in visible form contains three panels, top to bottom, X-ray from Chandra, optical light from NASA[{” attribute=””>Hubble Space Telescope, and radio waves from the Atacama Large Millimeter Array in Chile. The brightest region on the left of the image is where the black hole is found, and the structure to the upper right is a jet produced by the black hole. The jet is produced by material falling onto the black hole. The sonification scans across the three-tiered image from left to right, with each wavelength mapped to a different range of audible tones. Radio waves are mapped to the lowest tones, optical data to medium tones, and X-rays detected by Chandra to the highest tones. The brightest part of the image corresponds to the loudest portion of the sonification, which is where astronomers find the 6.5-billion solar mass black hole that EHT imaged.

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This sonication was led by the Chandra X-ray Center (CXC) and was included as part of NASA’s Education Universe (UoL) program with additional support from the NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center’s Hubble Space Telescope. The collaboration was driven by visualization scientist Kimberly Arcand (CXC), astrophysicist Matt Russo, and musician Andrew Santagueda (both from the SYSTEMS Sound Project). NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center manages the Chandra program. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory’s Chandra X-ray Center controls science from Cambridge, Massachusetts, and flight operations from Burlington, Massachusetts. The NASA universe educational materials are based on work that NASA supports under a collaborative agreement that awards NNX16AC65A to the Space Telescope Science Institute, working in partnership with Caltech/IPAC, Astrophysics Center | Harvard, Smithsonian, and Jet Propulsion Laboratory.