spaceSpace and PhysicsspaceAstronomy

JWST’S First Color Images Sound Gorgeous And A Little Creepy

The Carina Nebula sounds sparkly but the Southern Ring nebula sounds like it's sucking your soul.


Dr. Alfredo Carpineti

Senior Staff Writer & Space Correspondent

clockAug 31 2022, 16:32 UTC
Carina Nebula seen by JWST
The Carina Nebula was one of the first incredible images released by JWST. Image credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI

Just last week NASA shared the eerie sounds of the supermassive black hole at the center of the Perseus cluster. Now, it has released the sonification of JWST's first scientific targets, released earlier this summer. Starring the Carina Nebula, the Southern Ring Nebula, and the light spectrum of exoplanet WASP-96 b, you've seen them, and now you can hear them.  

Sonification is part of NASA’s Universe of Learning program, created by scientists, musicians, and members of the blind and visually impaired community to help enhance the experience of these astronomy images and data for low-vision people. It mixes real data with audio techniques for a more immersive and inclusive experience.


“When I first heard a sonification, it struck me in a visceral, emotional way that I imagine sighted people experience when they look up at the night sky,” Christine Malec, a member of the blind and low-vision community who supports this project, said in a statement

“I want to understand every nuance of sound and every instrument choice because this is primarily how I’m experiencing the image or data.”



Sighted people are also benefiting from sonification as reported in the preliminary results of this work. “Music taps into our emotional centers,” said Matt Russo, a musician and physics professor at the University of Toronto. “Our goal is to make Webb’s images and data understandable through sound – helping listeners create their own mental images.”

The tracks are not recording of sounds in space but the team converts the data to sound by composing music that tracks details present in the images whether it is stars, gas clouds shining in different wavelengths, or others.

For example, in the spectrum of WASP-96 b, there is a water drop sound every time the spectrum marks a water vapor emission line.

“These compositions provide a different way to experience the detailed information in Webb’s first data. Similar to how written descriptions are unique translations of visual images, sonifications also translate the visual images by encoding information, like color, brightness, star locations, or water absorption signatures, as sounds,” said Quyen Hart, a senior education and outreach scientist at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. 

“Our teams are committed to ensuring astronomy is accessible to all."

spaceSpace and PhysicsspaceAstronomy
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