NASA designated May 2-6, 2022 as “Black Hole Week.” And there’s no better way to celebrate than by listening to the haunting echo of a black hole. An MIT astrophysicist worked with musicians to convert cosmic X-rays into sound waves. If the void were ever to scream back, this is what it would sound like.
The recording, which we learned about from Engadget, is actually a side project of MIT professor Erin Kara. She also leads a research study that uses an X-ray telescope on the International Space Station to find echoing black holes throughout the Milky Way Galaxy.
Black holes are generally, well, black. But when they feed on the gas and dust of a nearby star, they emit detectable X-rays. The X-rays from black holes then bounce around to make a sound like a voice echo. The researchers use these reverberations to locate the black holes and learn more about their surroundings.
Dr. Kara and her colleagues created a so-called reverberation machine. It combs through data collected by the NICER (Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer) X-ray telescope aboard the ISS. They discovered eight new black holes in the Milky Way galaxy thanks to their glorious echoing sound. The Astrophysics Journal published the peer-reviewed research. Before the reverberation machine, scientists knew of only two. There are likely billions in the universe.
NASA is sharing a bunch of content to celebrate Black Hole Week. Including fun gifs and cartoons of black holes from baby to supermassive. It’s a topic everyone knows at least a little about, thanks to the stunning artwork and even photos of black holes. The more astrophysicists can find and understand, the better our understanding of the universe will be.
For more about Black Hole Week, check out #BlackHoleWeek on Twitter.
Melissa is Nerdist’s science & technology staff writer. She also moderates “science of” panels at conventions and co-hosts Star Warsologies, a podcast about science and Star Wars. Follow her on Twitter @melissatruth.