Hear the festive sounds of outer space with new sonification

NASA has released a new festive sonification showing giant star RS Puppis. Based on an image from the Hubble Space Telescope, this sonification provides an aural way to experience the giant star’s image.

In sonification, sounds begin at the outer edges and move toward the center, with points of light near the top of the image being assigned to higher pitches and points near the bottom to lower pitches. The effect is like a chime, transposing brighter highlights to louder tones.

RS Puppis is an example of a type of star called the Cepheid variable that was important in the development of astronomy. These stars are pulsing in brightness, with RS Puppis getting brighter over a six-week cycle. Crucially, as pioneering astronomer Henrietta Swan Leavitt discovered in 1908, the luminosity of these types of stars is related to the period of their pulsation.

This means that by observing how long a pulse of a Cepheid variable star lasts, astronomers can predict how bright it is. You can then compare that brightness to the observed brightness and use that information to determine exactly how far away it is. This meant that discovering the properties of these stars allowed astronomers to accurately measure distances to other galaxies for the first time.

This festive image from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope resembles a holiday wreath of twinkling lights. Bright southern hemisphere star RS Puppis at center of image is shrouded in a wispy cocoon of reflective dust illuminated by the glittering star. The superstar is 10 times more massive than our Sun and 200 times larger. NASA, ESA and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)-Hubble/Europe Collaboration; Acknowledgments: H. Bond (STScI and Pennsylvania State University)

The Hubble Space Telescope captured the image of RS Puppis on which the sonification is based in 2013. In addition to looking at the star’s pulsation, astronomers were also interested in observing the way light reflects off the dust surrounding the star, called a light echo.

“By observing the variations in light in RS Puppis itself, as well as recording the faint reflections of light pulses traveling across the nebula, astronomers are able to measure these light echoes and pinpoint a very accurate distance,” the Hubble scientists wrote back then . “The distance to RS Puppis has been narrowed down to 6,500 light-years (with an error rate of only 1 percent).”

Editor’s Recommendations

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *