Transforming Science into Sound

A new recently announced project is showing how science and art are not so far apart. In this case, the science in question is data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory. The art that is involved is music.

Star Songs

This project is called "Star Songs" and was started by Wanda Diaz Merced who came to visit the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) in 2011, where Chandra's Science Center is located, to work on her doctoral dissertation. Diaz Merced, who lost her sight while studying physics in her early 20s, had been using sonification - a technique to display data as sound - to continue her astrophysical research.

Serendipity stepped in when Gerhard Sonnert, a fellow CfA researcher, stopped by her office and noticed that sonified X-ray data from Chandra on the desk. Diaz Merced had been studying EX Hydrae, a system where two stars are in orbit around each other about 200 light years from Earth.

As a bass player in his spare time, Sonnert recognized patterns he had seen in music in the sonified Chandra data of EX Hydrae. Gerhard then contacted his cousin, Volkmar Studtrucker, a musician and composer, to help turn the notes generated from the X-ray data into pieces blues and jazz pieces as well as other types of music.

The result of this intriguing collaboration is "Star Songs." You can learn more about it from the website or from some of the recent attention it has received in the press. We applaud Diaz Merced, Sonnert, and Studtrucker for showing that there's no limit to how we can enjoy the Universe with a little creativity and hard work.

-Megan Watzke, CXC

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