Creating ALMA Sounds

By Antonio Hales and Ricardo Finger

Transforming waves captured by ALMA into sounds was not an easy task. Sound waves have a completely different nature than radio waves, and the challenge lay in maintaining the cosmic nature and scientific rigor when transforming the data, while considering that the sounds must also be pleasing to artists and the general public.

The sounds correspond to astronomic spectra captured by ALMA that was converted into a sound pattern. During the first stage, ALMA used waves from the Orion Nebula, captured by the observatory as part of scientific verification observations carried out in January 2012 with only 16 antennas. From this registry, we turned the data into a sound pattern, associating a different tonality with each spectral line emitted by the molecules present in the astronomic source. The frequencies and intensities of each molecular line are thereby converted into a sound spectrum that maintains the relative frequencies and intensities of the spectrum from the Universe.

To facilitate the artists’ creative process, we separated the sounds into 3 groups according to their frequencies: high, medium and low.

The project has been received well by artists, who have used these sounds to create numerous works of art. This motivates us to keep developing new sounds from other astronomic sources and create a true “Sound Universe.”



Crédito: Fortman, et al., NRAO/AUI/NSF, NAS

Credit: Fortman, et al., NRAO/AUI/NSF, NAS

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