Science and Exploration

Sonification And Sound Design for Astronomy Research, Education and Public Engagement

By Keith Cowing
Press Release
June 29, 2022
Filed under , ,
Sonification And Sound Design for Astronomy Research, Education and Public Engagement
Example of a simulated signal embedded in a dataset from the LIGO gravitational wave detector, plotted as gravitational wave strain versus time. Top panel: Simulated noiseless signal. This is how the gravitational wave data would look like if there were no noise (i.e. no interference) and is represented with sound at this link. Bottom panel: The same simulated signal embedded in a noisy LIGO dataset. White strain is plotted against time. An audible version of this dataset can be listened to at this link. The sonification has been done by the Black Hole Hunter team as part of an online game. To make the game more engaging, in the noisy datasets (e.g., bottom panel) the signal has been shifted in time such that it could occur anywhere in the data except the first 1 and last 0.25 seconds. In this case the signal reaches its peak at ?3.4 seconds. The change in scale for the y axis in the two panels is due to the whitening of the strain. Credit: Connor McIsaac (University of Portsmouth) and Edward Fauchon-Jones (Cardiff University).

Over the last ten years there has been a large increase in the number of projects using sound to represent astronomical data and concepts.
Motivation for these projects includes the potential to enhance scientific discovery within complex datasets, by utilising the inherent multi-dimensionality of sound and the ability of our hearing to filter signals from noise. Other motivations include creating engaging multi-sensory resources, for education and public engagement, and making astronomy more accessible to people who are blind or have low vision, promoting their participation in science and related careers.

We describe potential benefits of sound within these contexts and provide an overview of the nearly 100 sound-based astronomy projects that we identified. We discuss current limitations and challenges of the approaches taken. Finally, we suggest future directions to help realise the full potential of sound-based techniques in general and to widen their application within the astronomy community.

Comments: Accepted for publication in Nature Astronomy. A Word document (more accessible with screen readers) is available under ‘ancillary files’. This is the author’s own version (it is not the Version of Record and does not reflect post-acceptance improvements, or any corrections). The Version of Record will be available with doi:

A. Zanella (INAF), C.M. Harrison (Newcastle University), S. Lenzi (Center for Design, Northeastern University), J. Cooke (Centre for Astrophysics & Supercomputing and ARC Centre of Excellence for Gravitational Wave Discovery), P. Damsma (Sonokids Australia), S.W. Fleming (Space Telescope Science Institute)

Subjects: Instrumentation and Methods for Astrophysics (astro-ph.IM); Physics Education (physics.ed-ph); Physics and Society (physics.soc-ph)
Cite as: arXiv:2206.13536 [astro-ph.IM] (or arXiv:2206.13536v1 [astro-ph.IM] for this version)
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Submission history
From: Christopher Harrison
[v1] Mon, 27 Jun 2022 18:00:04 UTC (3,376 KB)

SpaceRef co-founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.