NASA Turns Milky Way Images into Angelic Music

A new NASA project that turns images captured by the Chandra X-Ray Observatory into sound has produced angelic results. The project, which uses the process of “sonificiation,” allows people to “listen” to the center of the Milky Way. And it turns out the galaxy’s tune, at least produced in this way, from these images, sets the tone for drifting off to a relaxing, deep sleep.

NASA recently posted the sonification of the Milky Way’s center, referring to it as Sounds from Around the Milky Way. The sounds are actually based off different types of images from different telescopes, not only Chandra. The Spitzer and Hubble telescopes, for example, also contributed data. In its totality, the piece has been written based on images observed in X-ray, optical, and infrared light.

NASA's sonification project has revealed the soundscape of the Milky Way's center.

X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO; Optical: NASA/STScI; IR: Spitzer NASA/JPL-Caltech

The project’s team created the sounds by translating the inherently digital image data (it’s all ones and zeroes!) captured by the telescopes into non-speech audio. All of the translations move from left to right, with sounds changing in pitch and volume based on the brightness and position of different light sources.

The scientists converted stars and other “compact sources” of light into individual notes, while clouds of dust and gas have taken on the tone of an evolving drone. The crescendo of the complete track—in the tweet up top—coincides with the image’s bright spot. That bright spot, known as Sagittarius A*, is the 4-million-solar-mass supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy.

The videos immediately above and below, tweeted by NASA visualization scientist, Kimberly Kowal Arcand, provide the sonifications for other, more specific objects in the galaxy. Cas A, an exploded star, sounds, and also somehow looks, like a revelation. And let’s just say that after you hear the so-called Pillars of Creation, you may start to believe in aliens.

Feature image: NASA