NASA’s most powerful telescope, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), has revealed for the first time details of the Southern Ring nebula – a planetary nebula that lies approximately 2,500 light-years away from Earth – that were previously hidden from astronomers. What if you could hear this data from Webb?
A team of scientists, musicians, and a member of the blind and visually impaired community worked to adapt Webb’s data, with support from the Webb mission and NASA’s Universe of Learning, to sound.
Webb uncovered two views of the Southern Ring Nebula in near-infrared light and mid-infrared light and each has been adapted to sound. In this sonification, the Near-infrared light is represented by a higher range of frequencies at the beginning of the track. Mid-way through, the notes change, becoming lower overall to reflect that mid-infrared includes longer wavelengths of light.
Listen to the eerie sound of the Southern Ring Nebula:
Credits: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI; Accessibility Production: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, and Kimberly Arcand (CXC/SAO), Matt Russo and Andrew Santaguida (SYSTEM Sounds), Quyen Hart (STScI), Claire Blome (STScI), and Christine Malec (consultant).
In addition to the Southern Ring nebula, NASA has also released sonification – the translation of astronomical data into sound – of Cosmic Cliffs in the Carina Nebula and the atmospheric characteristics of exoplanet WASP-96 b. The audio tracks are available here.
“These compositions provide a different way to experience the detailed information in Webb’s first data. Similar to how written descriptions are unique translations of visual images, sonifications also translate the visual images by encoding information, like color, brightness, star locations, or water absorption signatures, as sounds,” said Quyen Hart, a senior education and outreach scientist at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland.
The colors in Webb’s two views of the Southern Ring Nebula were mapped to pitches of sound. Near-infrared light (left) is represented by higher frequencies; mid-infrared (right) by lower frequencies. Both central stars can be heard in mid-infrared, but only one in near-infrared. pic.twitter.com/pTvIYIEhn9
— NASA Webb Telescope (@NASAWebb) August 31, 2022