Are there sounds in space? New audio released by NASA offers some insight – and the answer is haunting.
The audio released May 4 is that of a black hole from the center of the Perseus Galaxy Cluster, a massive space structure 11 million light-years across and about 240 million light-years from Earth. Astronomers produced the audible sound by recording the pressure waves the black hole sent through the cluster’s hot gas. In their original form, these waves are inaudible to the human ear, so scientists extracted the sound waves and scaled them by 57 and 58 octaves.
“In some ways, this sonification is unlike any before it,” NASA said in a press release. “…[The sound waves] 144 quadrillion and 288 quadrillion times higher than their original frequency can be heard.”
When boosted to human frequencies, the black hole’s sounds are almost like the howl of a haunting ghost or the deep-sea calls of a whale pod.
While this particular sound of space is new, NASA has been associating the Perseus galaxy cluster with sounds since 2003. Galaxy clusters like Perseus are the largest gravitationally bound objects in the universe, containing hundreds of galaxies, massive clouds of hot gas reaching more than 180 million degrees Fahrenheit, and the ever-mysterious dark matter. All of this material creates a medium for the propagation of sound waves.
Along with releasing the sounds of Perseus, NASA scientists have also released a sonification of another famous black hole located in Messier 87, or M87.
Unlike Perseus’ black hole, this one is much higher pitched and can best be described as ambient music with bells of light. The visualization of the sound released by NASA is equally spectacular, as it includes scans of the black hole taken by the Chandra X-ray Observatory, optical light from the Hubble Space Telescope, and radio waves from the Atacama Large Millimeter Array in Chile. It also includes an image of where the black hole is located and an image of a jet that M87 produced.
The audio files and visualizations were released during NASA’s Black Hole Week May 2-6. During this time, NASA released various visualizations and information about black holes as part of a “celebration of celestial objects with gravity so intense that even light cannot escape them.”