No matter what kind of music you like to blast from your car with the windows down, you’ve never heard something this otherworldly.
The system of seven Earth-size exoplanets orbiting cool dwarf star TRAPPIST-1 has made waves in the media over and over with all the buzz about potential life forms hiding out in its habitable zone, but this is the first time it’s making sound waves. The aspiring DJs at SYSTEM Sounds (who are all scientists at the University of Toronto's Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics) have found a way to convert the planets’ resonant chain—how their gravitational pulls harmonize to maintain stability in their circular orbits around both their star and themselves—into a digital symphony.
TRAPPIST-1’s resonant chain is not only the longest in any known planetary system, but makes music mathematically. If the seventh and most distant planet completes two orbital periods, the sixth has already completed three, the fifth four, and so on.
“Seven Earth-sized planets around a nearby star is enough to get anyone excited, especially when several of them have the potential to support liquid water,” said SYSTEM Sounds co-creator Matt Russo, a postdoctoral researcher at the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics. “But what makes TRAPPIST-1 really remarkable is that all seven of its planets are locked in a resonant chain, where the lengths of the planet’s years form simple whole number ratios with each other. This is what’s responsible for both the system’s harmony and its rhythm.”
Software created by the SYSTEM Sounds team, who want “to try to convert as many things in space into music as possible,” used data from NASA’s K2 mission to translate the orbital periods of the planets into musical notes. They fast-forwarded the motion of the exoplanets until their orbital frequencies seemed to produce musical notes that were translated on a piano. Each note is played once per orbit, with a drumbeat every time two nearby planets come close (which is when the gravitational magic happens). Listen to the original below, which sounds like something they’d play in one of those New-Agey stores that always smell like incense smoke and have more crystals than Fraggle Rock.
I’m strangely attracted to those places.
If you really want to be an unearthly DJ, the program on GitHub lets you adjust tempo and volume and switch notes on and off to customize your own sick space jam. Rock out.