After being contacted by a blind musician who treasured our sonification of the TRAPPIST-1 system, we realized we could reach a large audience of underserved people by communicating astronomy through music and sound. In response we have combined our astronomical sonifications with tactile representations and exhibited them at public science events and at the Canadian National Institute for the Blind’s Night Steps fundraising walk. Our sound-based planetarium show Our Musical Universe has been attended by several groups of visually impaired children and adults such as the Canadian Council of the Blind’s Toronto Visionaries.
On September 15, 2017 we organized an astronomy booth for Night Steps, a fundraising walk for the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB). The exhibit paired tactile and audio representations of four different astronomical objects:
- our sonification of Saturn’s rings/wood carving of the same data
- our musicalization of TRAPPIST-1/3D printed scale model
- a sonification of gravitational waves/3D printed model of spacetime ripples
- a sonification of the cosmic microwave background (Big Bang)/3D printed model of CMB ripples
and also included tactile astronomy images provided by the CHANDRA X-Ray Observatory. We were joined by astronomers Heidi White, Catherine Woodford, Katerina Chatziioannou, and Alysa Obertas from the University of Toronto.
We are currently collaborating with blind cancer researcher Mahadeo Sukhai, the CNIB, and the South Pacific Educators in Vision Impairment to make our content and website more accessible.
We have developed a sound-based planetarium show Our Musical Universe which takes people on an audio and visual tour of the cosmos from the night sky all the way out to the edge of the observable universe. It is currently showing at the Dunlap Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics’ planetarium at the University of Toronto. For tickets to public shows visit here. More dates will be added soon! The artwork features “Myth” by visually impaired artist Robyn Rennie, who painted it after experiencing an advanced showing. Our Musical Universe was featured in the National Post, the Globe and Mail, and on CBC’s Metro Morning. An audio essay that lets you hear some of the sounds from the show was produced by UofT in this article. It is supported by the International Astronomical Union’s Office of Astronomy for Development and by the Ontario Arts Council. A fully rendered version will be produced in late 2018!