What Does a Solar Storm Sound Like?

by Nancy Atkinson on March 15, 2012

Of course, there is no sound in space, but sonfication is a process where any kind of non-auditory data is translated as sound. “We’re transforming space data into the sonic realm such that we can gain a new perspective, and begin to ask new questions,” said Robert Alexander, a doctoral student at the University of Michigan, getting his Ph.D in Design Science, who created this great sonification video of the recent solar storm activity. Alexander used data from two spacecraft: SOHO, studying the Sun, and the MESSENGER spacecraft at Mercury, which has the University of Michigan’s Fast Imaging Plasma Spectrometer (FIPS) on board, an imaging mass spectrometer.

Mercury was recently bombarded with a solar storm, and the sound created from particles colliding with the FIPS is utterly horrifying, sounding like the worst monster you could ever imagine.

Alexander has been studying the Sun using sonification for the past few years, and has written a paper on a scientific discovery he made using this venue. And this isn’t the first video Alexander has created from space sonification — he has even created spectacular orchestral pieces from solar data.

Sonification is not new, but provides a different way of looking at data. In a previous article we wrote on the topic, Dr. Sandy Antunes — who is creating a small satellite to collect data from the ionosphere and send it back to Earth in sound-based MIDI files, allowing music to be created from space. “People don’t know what space sounds like,” he said. “You walk to ocean and close your eyes and you can hear the roar of the waves, the rushing of water, the moments of quiet; and you can get a good idea of what activity is going on. But we don’t know have an idea of the activity of space,” Antunes said, adding that sonifying the space environment provides a feeling of the “ebb and flow of it – how there are constant events going on, sometimes catastrophic-type events but there is also a quiescent stage.”

Sources: University of Michigan, Science Online

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also works with Astronomy Cast, and is a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

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