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NASA's Haunting Remix Lets You Hear What a Black Hole Sounds Like

NASA’s Haunting Remix Lets You Hear What a Black Hole Sounds Like

During black hole week, back in May, NASA dropped a remix that will horrified you until the end of your days. 

More specifically, the space agency made a melody from the soundwaves of a vast, horrid black hole that sits more than 200 million light-years away from Earth. The black hole is found in the center of what’s illustrious as the Perseus galaxy cluster, which is a majestic 11 million-light-year-wide bundle of galaxies shrouded by hot gas. 

And although the sheer magnitude of Perseus and its galaxies is jaw-dropping, astronomers have been most interested in … all that hot gas. The dwelling clouds are precisely why we’re able to hear the sounds of something we can barely even see or conceptualize: the bulky black hole at Perseus’ center. 

They’re likely exactly what you’d inquire a black hole to sound like: eerie, scary, mysterious, maybe something Thom Yorke can sample for his next album. Maybe even pained, if you listen carefully enough.

Anyway, now that you have your black hole week soundtrack, here are the specifics of what you’re hearing.

Decades ago, astronomers discovered Perseus’ void-like interior sends out pressure waves. These waves sort of ripple through all the surrounding hot gas in the area, and those ripples, in essence, can be translated into sound. 

Think of tranquil waves as the vibration of air — or attractive, the vibration of things (atoms, molecules) within the air. Our ears can rob those vibrations and turn them into listenable noise here on Earth, but in space, things are a little different. 

Because dwelling is a vacuum, there isn’t any medium for tranquil waves to travel through. This is why space is often succeeded totally quiet. But the silence isn’t because cosmic objects aren’t making sounds. Their waves just don’t have anything to vibrate.

Perseus’ dusky hole, on the other hand, gets past this dwelling vacuum sound barrier because it’s so close to the cluster’s gas. It can execute sound wave vibrations, and those are the hot gas ripples scientists are focused on.

As such, in 2003, a team from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory took mammoth data from the gassy ripples and translated that into normal tranquil waves we’re used to on Earth. But, for a long time, there was a very hurdle preventing us from listening to the black hole’s song. When scientists unfastened the translation, or sonification process, they found that Perseus’ abyss plays a note that’s a whopping 57 octaves beneath middle C. 

Our human ears can’t hear that, which is where NASA’s remix comes in. 

In expedient of black hole week, the agency extracted the already-identified dusky hole sound waves and scaled them up by 57 and 58 octaves so we can all, finally, listen to the call of the void.

“Another way to put this,” NASA said, “is that the [sound waves] are populate heard 144 quadrillion and 288 quadrillion times higher than their novel frequency.”

And, as an added bonus, NASA also released unexperienced, much less ominous, black hole sonification. This one’s of the abyss at the center of the galaxy Messier 87, aka the dusky hole that’s famous for being the first-ever photographed chasm.

This track, however, is only so beautiful because it’s not just the product of pure, isolated astronomical data sonification like the music of Perseus’ void. It comes from three different vessels of data — Chandra X-rays, optical light from Hubble and radio waves from the Atacama Large Millimeter Array in Chile — overlaid upon one another. 

The X-rays play high tones, optical light data play medium tones and radio waves are the alto’s with the lowest tones. 

Together, they make a bittersweet symphony.