Scientists use the sound of space for music score

22 Jan 2014

Voyager 1

Since 1977, the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 spacecrafts have been travelling through our solar system collecting reams of data from cosmic rays that make up our universe and now scientists have created interstellar music from it.

The incredible piece of music has been developed by the pan-European data network known as GÉANT, which has re-united the two spacecraft after 36 years, despite them being billions of kilometres apart in different sides of the solar system.

To compose the spacecraft duet, 320,000 measurements were first selected from each spacecraft, at one-hour intervals. Then that data was converted into two long melodies, each comprising 320,000 notes using different sampling frequencies, from a few kHz to 44.1kHz.  

The result of the conversion into waveform, using such a big data set, created a wide collection of audible sounds, lasting just a few seconds (slightly more than seven seconds at 44.1kHz) to a few hours (more than five hours using 1,024Hz as a sampling frequency). A certain number of data points, from a few thousand to 44,100, were each ‘converted’ into one second of sound.

Voyager spacecraft trajectory

The course of both Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 through the solar system

GÉANT’s network services product manager, Domenico Vicinanza who is also a highly trained musician, led the project.

Speaking about the piece, Vicinanza sees the significant similarities between music and science: “Analysing the melody is exactly the same as looking at data in a spreadsheet, but using the ear. The information content is exactly the same: represented by regularities, patterns, changes, trends and peaks. In fact, data sonification makes it possible to get information about long-range regularities and correlations that are hard to spot just by inspection.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic