The sound you will hear is that generated by a supermassive black hole in the Perseus cluster of galaxies. It is amplified at frequencies 288 quadrillion times higher than its original frequency. The result is frightening.

They are the most popular cosmic beasts, black holes. Their gravity is so intense that not even light can escape them. They form when the cores of very massive stars run out of fuel and collapse under their own weight, compressing vast amounts of matter into a tiny space.

Supermassive black holes, with masses billions of times that of the Sun, can be found at the centers of most large galaxies. Ours, the Milky Way, contains at its center a supermassive black hole, Sagittarius A*, weighing about 4 million solar masses.

the sound hole

Since it was located in 2003, the black hole at the center of the Perseus galaxy cluster has been associated with sound. Astronomers found that the pressure waves generated by the black hole caused ripples in the cluster’s hot gas that could be translated into a note – one that humans cannot hear, about 57 octaves below C minor.

Now, new sonification has added more notes to the vibrations generated by Perseus’ black hole. This new sonification -that is, the translation of astronomical data into sound- is launched on the occasion of the This year’s NASA Black Hole Week.

In some ways, this sonification is unlike anything done before, because it revisits actual sound waves discovered in data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory. The misconception that there is no sound in space stems from the fact that most space is essentially empty, providing no means for sound waves to propagate. Instead, a galaxy cluster contains large amounts of gas that engulf the hundreds or even thousands of component galaxies, providing a medium for sound waves to travel through.

57 octaves above your real pitch

In this new sonification of Perseus, sound waves previously identified by astronomers were extracted and made audible for the first time. The sound waves were drawn in a radial direction, that is, away from the center. The signals were then resynthesized to the range of human hearing, scaling them 57 and 58 octaves above their true pitch.

Another way of saying this is that it sounds 144 quadrillion and 288 quadrillion times louder than its original frequency. (A quadrillion is 1,000,000,000,000.)

Credit: NASA/CXC/SAO/K.Arcand, SYSTEM Sounds (M. Russo, A. Santaguida)


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