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: