An explosion of sound!

A gamma-ray burst is an incredible stellar event, in-fact it’s one the most powerful explosions in the universe! It occurs when a star’s core collapses into a black hole and matter is rushed outward at nearly the speed of light. In 2008 NASA recorded a gamma-ray burst of the greatest total energy, the fastest motions and the highest-energy initial emissions ever seen!

“We were waiting for this one,” said Peter Michelson, the principal investigator on Fermi’s Large Area Telescope at Stanford University. “Burst emissions at these energies are still poorly understood, and Fermi is giving us the tools to understand them.”

Realising the sonic potential in this data, Sylvia Zhu began converting the data to music. In this sonification she maps each photon to one of three instruments depending on how likely it was to be associated with the burst, each photon’s frequency is mapped to a comparable sound frequency, and then slows the play back rate down by five times. The result (below) is simply astonishing.

I think that this sonification not only accurately represents the data, but also sounds amazing! The use of instrumentation, and the mapping of the data make this a wonderful piece of music in it’s own right. What really makes this piece so brilliant though, is that I genuinely feel like I have a better perception of the data through this sonification than I do visually. For me, this is one of the finest sonifications I have come across so far in my research. The downside is that being a historic event, this is a fixed piece of music; unlike Wav4kst which is constantly shifting with new data!