Use code to create a solar system that really rocks!

Have a blast learning about music, astronomy, and coding all at once! In these activities you'll program planets to make music that is out of this world. By the end you'll be able to create your own musical solar system, complete with banging drums and spacey melodies. You can even use data of real planets and remix their song however you choose. You'll see how computer science can be used to learn about our universe and to be creative at the same time. Click the button below to begin!

Let's get started!

The Science

Star: A glowing ball of gas held together by its own gravity and powered by nuclear fusion in its core.

Planet: One of eight major bodies that orbit the Sun, visible to us by reflected sunlight.

Exoplanet: A planet outside of our solar system.

Orbit: The path of an object in space around a star, planet, or moon. Eg., "Earth's orbit around our Sun"

Orbital Period: The period, or orbital period, of a planet is how long it takes to complete one orbit.

Scale (musical scale): An ordered sequence of notes, it can be used as building blocks to make a melody or song.

Octave: In music, the jump between one musical pitch and a higher or lower pitch with the same name. Eg. C4 is one octave higher than C3.

What is Sonification?

Most of our Universe is too distant to visit in person, but we can still explore it. Telescopes give us a chance to understand what objects in our Universe are like in different types of light. By translating the inherently digital data (in the form of ones and zeroes) captured by telescopes, astronomers can create images of what would otherwise be invisible to us.

But what about experiencing these data with other senses, like hearing? Sonification is the process that translates data into sound. Our sonification project brings parts of our Milky Way galaxy, and of the greater Universe beyond it, to you to listen to. Experience your Universe in a whole new way.

Lessons

Grades 4-12 learners with no prior coding experience can learn how to use computers to create and animate solar systems and then to use them as a musical instrument. Participants learn basic coding starting with familiar objects and simple concepts such as size and color. Then more advanced astronomical and musical terms are introduced such as the period of a planet and the names of notes and scales. Following a scaffolded set of activities, participants can experience real world applications of computer science to understand our universe and to create unconventional music. Press the Let's get started! button to start the activity, watch the lesson videos below, or check out our examples of some completed steps.

Let's get started!

Note: This activity can take from 45-75 minutes, depending on the total number of learners, the length of time allotted per step, etc.

What will we be making? Check out these 2 example files:

Step 4 example

Step 4 example

Step 8 example

Step 8 example


Lesson Videos

 

[Download Video ]

Lessons Introduction: Intro to Space Jam

[Download Video ]

Lesson 1:

Draw a Background

[Download Video ]

Lesson 2:

Create a Star

[Download Video ]

Lesson 3:

Create a Planet (& Orbit)

[Download Video ]

Lesson 4:

Create a Solar System

[Download Video ]

Lesson 5:

Pluck a String

[Download Video ]

Lesson 6:

Play Drums

[Download Video ]

Lesson 7:

Play Notes

[Download Video ]

Lesson 8:

Create Your Own Space Jam!

[Download Video ]

Bonus Lesson:

Remix a real extrasolar system!

Brief Educator Notes

Grades 2-5 notes: Younger audiences will need a little guidance to get started and some encouragement along the way. The step-by-step nature provided in the lessons should help, and you can take advantage of this by dividing the lessons into even smaller chunks for your learners, moving on to the next segments and lessons as attention permits. There will be terms that need some definition or further discussion to relate the lessons to coding concepts and also astronomical phenomena, such as periods of orbits — see our glossary for help with those terms.

Grades 6-9+ notes: For older learners, after completing all 8 lessons direct your learners to press the ‘More!’ button to explore pre-made musical versions of real solar systems. More advanced learners can also complete a bonus activity which lets them choose any real planetary system and perform simple calculations (division with a calculator) to create them on their own within the app. There are also complementary NASA Space Math activities that will pair well with this activity for a math extension:

1) Exploring the Evaporating Exoplanet HD189733b

Students estimate how quickly this planet will lose its atmosphere and evaporate at its present loss rate of 6 million tons/second.

[Grade: 6-8 | Topics: mass= density x volume; rates; volume of a sphere]

(PDF)[Related Science Press Release]

2) Chandra Sees a Distant Planet Evaporating

The planet CoRot2b is losing mass at a rate of 5 million tons per second. Students estimate how long it will take for the planet to lose its atmosphere.

[Grade: 6-8 | Topics: Scientific Notation; Rate = Amount/Time]

(PDF)[Related Science Press Release]


Learn More About Sonification in Research & Communication:

[Download Video ]

Trailer

[Download Video ]

Part 1: Intro to Sonification

[Download Video ]

Part 2: How Scientists Use Sonification

[Download Video ]

Part 3: DIY Sonification

Resources

Find links to printable handouts and posters, more videos, and related coding activities.

Coding Resources:

Recoloring the Universe coding activity with Pencil Code

Binary Code activities

Low-tech Options:

Binary Code: nametag, bracelets, drumming

Tinkercad 3D Modeling activity

Chandra Virtual Field Trip

Sonification Resources:

Sonification of Exoplanet WASP-96 b

Sonification Collection

SYSTEM Sounds (more sonification examples)

Exoplanet Resources:

Eyes on Exoplanets

DIY Planet Search

More Information:

NASA's Universe of Learning