Meet the newest stars of the music scene. Well, not stars precisely.
Messier 87 (M87), is an elliptical galaxy about 55 million light-years from Earth. At its center is a black hole with a mass 6.5 billion times that of our fellow sun. This black hole was the first to be imaged by the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) project, which three years ago released a portrait of the black hole’s shadow and a glowing disk of matter being gravitationally pulled toward the center of the black hole.
However, after using data collected by a group of telescopes – not including the EHT – scientists have now released the song that M87 and its supermassive black hole are singing, according to a NASA release.
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Using X-ray data collected by the Chandra X-ray Observatory, optical light data collected by the Hubble Space Telescope, and radio waves recorded by the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile, NASA scientists created a radar-style map that reproduces the sound of M87 – specifically, the massive jet of material that the black hole at its heart shoots across the galaxy.
To create the soundscape, the scientists mapped the wavelengths of three different types of electromagnetic radiation emitted from the surroundings of the black hole and the jet in a variety of audible tones. At the top of the map are the higher notes mapped from X-rays recorded from Chandra, which are followed by midtones from Hubble’s optical light data and the lower tones from ALMA’s radio waves at the bottom.
As the sound progresses, it creates an audio representation of the “noisiest” parts of the black hole. For example, the brightest and noisiest part of the map, where most of the radiation is emitted, is near the beginning of sonification and represents the black hole itself. The brightness and volume of the music fluctuates with the jets of radiation emitted by the black hole.
When combined, the three radiation sounds blend together to produce one of the finest white noise galactic machines.
Along with M87, scientists also recorded the sound of a galaxy cluster called Perseus. About 250 million light-years from Earth, a cluster of galaxies in the constellation Perseus is releasing pressure waves — about 30,000 light-years across — into the universe. These pressure waves are emitted from a black hole at the center of Perseus and ripple through the ultra-hot gases that make up the galaxy cluster.
Scientists were able to translate and “resynthesize” the pressure waves into sound waves that humans can hear. Initially, the frequency of sound waves was recorded at 57 octaves below what the human ear can hear. However, after scaling the frequency of the sound wave 144 quadrillion times (144,000,000,000,000,000) above the original frequency, the sound of Perseus can be heard.
It is a misconception that because space it is largely a vacuum, sound cannot exist within it. The logic behind the misconception revolves around the need for a medium – such as air or water – for sound waves to travel. In a vacuum, this medium does not exist; however, the galactic gases in the Perseus cluster provide more than enough medium to record a sound.
Sonification of the galaxies M87 and Pegasus was produced as part of an ongoing project led by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and NASA’s Universe of Learning program to “sonify” the universe and collect the symphony from space.
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