The Sound of a Solar Storm

An ultraviolet image of a solar flare captured by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (Credits: NASA).

Using NASA’s Messenger and Solar and Heliospheric Observatory  spacecraft, doctoral design student Robert Alexander “sonifed” data from a March solar storm. Alexander is a composer at the University of Michigan with a NASA fellowship to study how auditory data representation can further scientific analysis.

 “We’re used to looking at wiggly-line plots and graphs, but humans are very good at hearing things,” commented University of Michigan’s Space Physics Research Lab lead mission operations engineer Jim Raines. “We wonder if there’s a way to find things in the data that are difficult to see.”

The only common data sonification practice today is the clicking of  Geiger counter radiation detectors from high energy particle exposure. However, that state of affairs may not last long: “For a while, movies were silent and people just accepted that that’s the way it is,” said Alexander in a statement. “There’s all this high res footage of what’s happening on the surface of the sun, and it’s silent. I’m creating a soundtrack.”

The technique has been under development for several years and has led to optimization of isotope ratios used for solar wind monitoring.

Listen to the video below to hear the sound of the sun in a storm:



About the author

Merryl Azriel

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Having wandered into professional writing and editing after a decade in engineering, science, and management, Merryl now enjoys reintegrating the dichotomy by bringing space technology and policy within reach of an interested public. After three years as Space Safety Magazine’s Managing Editor, Merryl semi-retired to Visiting Contributor and manager of the campaign to bring the International Space Station collaboration to the attention of the Nobel Peace Prize committee. She keeps her pencil sharp as Proposal Manager for U.S. government contractor CSRA.

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