An audio clip recently shared by NASA has captured the imagination of people online and, frankly, freaked them out. What on Earth did NASA share? Oh, only the eerie sounds of a black hole. Yes, it's creepy as hell.
NASA actually released the sonification of a couple of black holes for Black Hole Week back in May, but the agency's Exoplanets Twitter handle recently shared the audio clip again – and it's blowing people's minds. Not only can we hear what a black hole sounds like, but it's challenging the idea that there is no sound in space.
According to the space agency, sound has been associated with the black hole at the center of the Perseus galaxy cluster since 2003. That was when astronomers discovered that ripples in the cluster's hot gas caused by pressure waves sent out from the black hole could be translated into musical notes. However, at 57 octaves below middle C, humans couldn't hear it.
This huge black hole sits over 200 million light-years away from Earth, nestled at the center of the mish-mash of galaxies shrouded in hot gas that make up the Perseus cluster. It's this gas that allowed the sonification – the translation of astronomical data into sound – of this black hole, although in a way that has not been done before.
It uses actual sound waves discovered in data from the Chandra X-ray Observatory. NASA pointed out that the misconception that "there is no sound in space because space is a vacuum" is based on the idea that there is no medium for sound waves to travel through. However, a galaxy cluster with lots of gas enveloping its inhabitants works just fine for sound waves.
Scientists extracted these previously-discovered sound waves and resynthesized them into a range humans can hear by scaling them up by 57 and 58 octaves. Or, as NASA described it, "they are being heard 144 quadrillion and 288 quadrillion times higher than their original frequency."
Of course, not everyone is appreciating this incredible feat of engineering that allows us another glimpse at these mysterious objects.