Hubble Sounds

Images of Galaxy Clusters Converted Into Sound

Our eyes have been stunned by the gorgeous views of the deep universe captured by the Hubble Space Telescope. What happens if we convert them to sound? We worked with NASA to find out.

To do this, we scan images of galaxy clusters from left to right while generating sound waves based on the brightness and position of the light received by Hubble. Brighter light is heard as louder sound and the tone’s frequency increases from the bottom up to the top of the image. Objects near the top of the image then produce the higher pitched tones. This is very similar to how a music box works except that each galaxy’s shape as well as its position controls the sound you hear. Is this the sound of SpongeBob in the future?

The first image is of a galaxy cluster known as RXC J0142.9+4438. You can see (and hear) the many galaxies orbiting each other like a swarm of bees, centered around a massive elliptical galaxy. Smaller or more compact galaxies produce short blip sounds while some elongated spiral galaxies create longer notes that can change pitch. The cluster’s enormous mass distorts spacetime and acts like a giant magnifying lens. This gravitational lensing giving us a closer (although distorted) view of galaxies that lie far beyond the cluster. A few foreground stars that are within the Milky Way galaxy can also be found in the image (the small bright objects with cross-shaped light).

Hubble

Our galactic sonification was heard by some pretty famous people (we’ll need to add beat next time) and became a meme!

The second image is of the Abell 370 cluster. Listen for the two massive elliptical galaxies near the cluster’s core and the bright foreground star at the bottom right. Some dramatic gravitational lensing also occurs in this cluster, creating arcs such as ‘The Dragon’ just below the large elliptical galaxy on the bottom left.