Gamma Rays: Translating into Sound

NASA has launched an observatory into orbit around the earth to detect and study Gamma Ray bursts – those mysterious high energy emissions which occur on average once a day somewhere in the universe. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by the American Museum of Natural History.

The tones we’re listening to are a picture in sound of an actual Gamma Ray burst event. Jeff Kommers is a PhD candidate in Physics at MIT.

“These sounds represent the intensity of gamma rays that arrive at the detectors aboard our space craft. Typically we get a set of numbers. These numbers are essentially how many gamma rays per second have hit our detectors. So we’ve taken this string of numbers sent to us by our spacecraft, and we’ve turned them into sound by taking the number of Gamma Ray per second and turning that number into a pitch. So that when the number of Gamma Rays per second increases, we hear a higher pitch. We’ve also adjusted the tempo just a little bit so that we hear the notes change more quickly, the brighter the Gamma Rays are. And we’ve also adjusted the volume so that the volume goes up just a little bit the brighter the Gamma Rays are The recording tells us something about how intense and violent the process that produces Gamma Ray bursts must be. We don’t yet know what objects are responsible for the Gamma Ray bursts, but we do know that whatever it is that causes them must release a tremendous amount of energy in a relatively short period time.”

Our special thanks to Kai-yuh Hsaio at MIT’s media lab for translating the Gamma Ray signals into sounds. Additional funding for Pulse of the Planet has been provided by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner.

Gamma Rays: Translating into Sound

Gamma ray bursts hitting a sensor on a spacecraft are translated into sound by scientists at MIT’s Media Lab.
Air Date:05/18/1998
Scientist:
Transcript:

NASA has launched an observatory into orbit around the earth to detect and study Gamma Ray bursts - those mysterious high energy emissions which occur on average once a day somewhere in the universe. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by the American Museum of Natural History.

The tones we're listening to are a picture in sound of an actual Gamma Ray burst event. Jeff Kommers is a PhD candidate in Physics at MIT.

"These sounds represent the intensity of gamma rays that arrive at the detectors aboard our space craft. Typically we get a set of numbers. These numbers are essentially how many gamma rays per second have hit our detectors. So we've taken this string of numbers sent to us by our spacecraft, and we've turned them into sound by taking the number of Gamma Ray per second and turning that number into a pitch. So that when the number of Gamma Rays per second increases, we hear a higher pitch. We've also adjusted the tempo just a little bit so that we hear the notes change more quickly, the brighter the Gamma Rays are. And we've also adjusted the volume so that the volume goes up just a little bit the brighter the Gamma Rays are The recording tells us something about how intense and violent the process that produces Gamma Ray bursts must be. We don't yet know what objects are responsible for the Gamma Ray bursts, but we do know that whatever it is that causes them must release a tremendous amount of energy in a relatively short period time."

Our special thanks to Kai-yuh Hsaio at MIT's media lab for translating the Gamma Ray signals into sounds. Additional funding for Pulse of the Planet has been provided by the National Science Foundation. I'm Jim Metzner.