September 5, 2022

NASA Turns James Webb Images Into Beautiful Music, Uploads It to SoundCloud

“When I first heard a sonification, it struck me in a visceral, emotional way.”

NASA Beats

Babe, wake up. The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) SoundCloud just dropped.

If you’re thinking, “huh, I didn’t know telescopes could make music,” we understand. It’s a two-part effort — the JWST provides the incredible deep space imagery, and then a team of scientists and musicians, along with members of the blind and visually impaired community, collaborate to adapt the photos into extraordinary soundscapes.

“Music taps into our emotional centers,” Matt Russo, a musician and physics professor at the University of Toronto, said in NASA’s press release. “Our goal is to make Webb’s images and data understandable through sound — helping listeners create their own mental images.”

Audio Picture

According to NASA, the sonifications were conceptualized as a way to ensure that the visual wonders of astronomy are accessible for all to experience. The James Webb has quickly become one absolutely one of the coolest things that humankind has done so far, and the imagery it’s generated has captivated imaginations far and wide. By turning its photos into audio clips, the thinking goes, more people than ever will be able to experience them.

“Similar to how written descriptions are unique translations of visual images,” said Quyen Hart, a scientist at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, “sonifications also translate the visual images by encoding information, like color, brightness, star locations, or water absorption signatures, as sounds.”

So far, NASA has created audio for a few different JWST images, including the Cosmic Cliffs in the Carina Nebula (an atmospheric, immersive tune, inspired by gauzy clouds of gas and dusty) and the Southern Ring Nebula (a haunting, vacuum-like theme inspired by the body’s infrared light).

As it goes without saying, this is a beautiful project. The cosmos belong to everyone — and ensuring access for all is long overdue.

“When I first heard a sonification, it struck me in a visceral, emotional way,” Christine Malec, a member of the blind and low vision community who supports the project, said the press release, “that I imagine sighted people experience when they look up at the night sky.”

READ MORE: Hear Images From NASA’s James Webb Telescope as Haunting Music [CNET]

More on JWST: James Webb Just Took Its First Direct Image of an Exoplanet

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