spaceSpace and Physics

Some Of The Most Epic Views In The Milky Way Have Been Turned Into Melodies


Dr. Alfredo Carpineti

Senior Staff Writer & Space Correspondent

clockSep 24 2020, 14:36 UTC

X-ray, Optical, and Infrared composite image of Galactic Center. X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO; Optical: NASA/STScI; IR: Spitzer NASA/JPL-Caltech

Astronomy is a discipline of gorgeous imagery but researchers have now expanded into a different sense: sound. Famous images from the Milky Way have been turned into melodies thanks to a process called sonification.

Using data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, Hubble Space Telescope, and Spitzer Space Telescope, the observations and assigned sounds have been matched to the position and brightness of the sources as the melody spans the image, as you can see in the video below.


In the sonification of the Milky Way’s center, a region 26,000 light-years away, the data from the observatories creates a visual spectacle of bright lights and fiery clouds. The sonification follows a similar pattern. Spitzer data focused on the gas and dust clouds in the center of the Milky Way, and around them, Hubble spotted thousands of bright stars. Chandra brings in the most energetic events, the remnants of stellar explosions as well as the centerpiece, Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole at the core of our galaxy.

The Galactic Center sonification, followed by the sounds of the famous "Pillars of Creation" Eagle nebula aka M16, and the beautiful supernova remnant Cassiopeia A. 

The team also made sonifications of other famous sights, including the "Pillars Of Creation," Hubble's spectacular photo of the fingerlike structures of interstellar gas in the Eagle Nebula (M16) being eroded by the stars they helped form. The image covers the visible and X-ray spectrum from Hubble and Chandra, respectively. It follows the same approach as the sonification of the center of the Milky Way, but somehow produces an eerier and more sci-fi-like result.

The final source to get the sound treatment is the supernova remnant Cassiopeia A. Located 11,000 light-years away, light from the explosion reached Earth back in 1667. The sonification here was slightly different. The sounds of the melody are linked to high-energy data and the detection of four elements that the supernova remnant has an abundance of.


Moving from the center of the cloud in four directions, the melodies track the presence of silicon (red), sulfur (yellow), calcium (green), and iron (purple). The more of these there is, the louder the sound. You can check it out at around 1:30 in the video above.

This sonification of the Galactic Center, Cas A, and M16 was led by the Chandra X-ray Center (CXC) as part of NASA's Universe of Learning (UoL) program. NASA's A Universe of Sound website hosts all of these incredible videos as well as other cosmic sounds such as the rhythmic heartbeat of pulsars and the motion of gas in a cluster.

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