Nasa has released amazing audio data of two black holes captured by one of its space telescopes.
So what does a black hole do sound how? Hell – or maybe Heaven. Based on new work from the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory’s Chandra X-ray Center, it depends on the black hole and how you listen.
For the most part, empty space lacks a continuous medium for the transmission of sound waves.
But sound is just one type of wave, and Nasa and the Chandra X-ray Center have created a catalog of celestial “sonifications” that record the emissions from space objects observed in visible light, X-rays, and other parts of electromagnetism Spectrum and conversion of the patterns into audible frequencies that we can hear.
Some of the sonifications rendered so far include the “sounds” of our galaxy’s core, supernovae, and nebulae such as the “Pillars of Creation.”
But in honor of Black Hole Week, Nasa and the center have shared two new sonifications of black holes.
The first is the black hole at the center of the galaxy Messier 87, 53 million light-years away, which was the first black hole ever imaged by the Event Horizon Telescope in 2019. Sonification of the Messier 87 black hole takes X-ray, visual light, and radio wave observations and converts them into audio waves that are surprisingly harmonious and ethereal.
But the second black hole is a different story.
The black hole at the heart of the Perseus galaxy cluster differs from most other sonification targets because it sits within a hot cloud of gas that permeates the cluster. It actually creates waves in this gas, which is better classified as “sound” than the X-rays and other light from Messier 84.
The trick for Nasa and the Chandra X-ray center was to learn to shift the pitch of the sounds of Perseus’ black hole into the range of human hearing. The sounds of the black hole naturally resonate 57 octaves below middle C on the piano, so they had to be scaled up 57 to 58 octaves—an amazing 288 quadrillion times their original pitch.
The results are very different from Messier 84 sonification. Where Messier 84 was sonorous and celestial, the meaning of Perseus is sometimes discordant, dark and plaintive, a sound perhaps more expected of a perfectly dark maw of an all-consuming abyss than the gentle tones of Messier 84.
The meanings were created as part of NASA’s Universe of Learning program, which aims to inspire student and self-paced learning about space, astronomy, and physics.