NASA releases new black hole ‘sounds’

NASA releases new black hole ‘sounds’

US space agency NASA has released sounds it created with data collected from black holes.

The process of producing sound is called sonification. NASA says it used astronomical data recorded by its Chandra X-ray Observatory. Special equipment then translated the data into audible sound.

According to NASA, the Chandra Orbiting Observatory is the most powerful X-ray telescope in the world.

One of the black holes studied is at the center of the Perseus cluster or group of galaxies. The Perseus Cluster is home to hundreds of galaxies. They are 240 million light-years from Earth.

Black holes are areas of space where gravity is so strong that nothing, not even light, can escape them. They are thought to be formed by collapsed stars.

This illustration shows the Chandra X-ray Observatory, which NASA claims is the most powerful X-ray telescope in the world.  (Credits: NASA/CXC & J.Vaughan)

This illustration shows the Chandra X-ray Observatory, which NASA claims is the most powerful X-ray telescope in the world. (Credits: NASA/CXC & J.Vaughan)

The presence of black holes affects the surrounding environment in an extreme way. But black holes are not easy to capture with a camera. Indeed, they are surrounded by thick dust and extremely hot gases.

NASA says it discovered in 2003 that the black hole at the center of the Perseus galaxy cluster was related to sound. Astronomers had earlier discovered that the “pressure waves” emitted by the black hole caused ripples in the hot gases of the cluster.

Astronomers have discovered that they can translate these ripples into a sound note. But the note was in a very low range that humans cannot hear. Using new sonification methods, NASA says it was able to produce sounds from the ripples we could hear.

In a statement, the space agency said that in some ways the latest sonification was “different from any others made before”. Indeed, the process “revisits the actual sound waves discovered in the data” from the Chandra telescope.

NASA explains that there is a popular false idea that there is no sound in space. He notes that it is true that most of space exists in a vacuum, meaning it is separate from outside events or influences. But a galaxy cluster contains large amounts of gas that surrounds the many galaxies it contains. This, according to NASA, “provides a means for the sound waves to travel.”

For the new sonification of the Perseus black hole, the NASA team used sound waves it had collected in the past. But the astronomers then had to place the signals within a range that the human ear could hear. To do this, they strongly raised the ground waves at a level far above their own frequency.

NASA posted the sounds on its website. They are contained in videos that show visual representations of x-ray data collected by Chandra. Video footage can be used to track the waves, which NASA says were sent in different directions.

The space agency also released a new sonification of a black hole that became famous in 2019. This black hole sits at the center of the galaxy Messier 87, about 55 million light-years from Earth. He rose to fame when astronomers announced that they had successfully produced the first image of a black hole.

NASA says the sonification was based on X-ray data collected by Chandra, light captured by the Hubble Space Telescope, as well as radio waves from the Atacama Large Millimeter Array in Chile.

The Black Hole Sounds were released as part of NASA’s Black Hole Week. As part of the event, the agency also released new “data visualizations” of black holes based on telescope observations.

I am Brian Lynn.

Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English, based on reports from NASA.

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words in this story

Translate – v. to pass from one language to another or from one form to another

constellation – nm a group of stars that forms a particular shape in the sky and has been given a name

ripple – nm a small wave or series of small waves

false idea – nm an understanding of something that is wrong

ground – nm a level of a particular sound

visual adj. relating to sight

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