Trying to look directly into the sun probably isn’t the best idea, but now you can listen to it.
“Waves are traveling and bouncing around inside the Sun, and if your eyes were sensitive enough they could actually see this,” said Alex Young, associate director for science in the Heliophysics Science Division at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
Waves travel through anything material that moves, including the enormous fireball at the center of our solar system. What Young means by your eyes being able to see what is going on if you could stand the intense blaze of light is that you would actually be able to observe the motions of the waves inside the sun. It is these motions that have been transformed into an otherworldly stream of sound that you may want to play next time you just need to zone out.
The SOHO Michelson Doppler Imager (MDI) data that was sonified by the Stanford Experimental Physics Lab does more than just provide an ambience. Capturing the Sun’s vibrations in a recording allows scientists to study the most accurate representation of its constantly changing movements, kind of like an auditory solar probe.
“We don’t have straightforward ways to look inside the Sun. We don’t have a microscope to zoom inside the Sun,” Young said. “So using a star or the Sun’s vibrations allows us to see inside of it.”
It takes a certain kind of wizardry to turn these vibrations into something audible to the human ear. Stanford University physicist Alexander Kosovichev processed the SOHO MDI data to generate sounds NASA can actually make sense out of to study the innards of our star. He averaged the Doppler velocity data over the solar disc and left only modes of low angular degree. Further processing this data, he removed intrusive sounds such as the tuning of instruments on the spacecraft and the motion of the spacecraft itself. He then filtered the data to end up with uninterrupted sound waves.
This is as close as scientists can get to superhuman X-ray vision. The vibrations they hear are the result of the complex motions that generate magnetic fields inside the sun which drift to the surface and cause the sun spots that set off the solar flares and coronal mass ejections that are behind space weather. Erratic space weather can affect our cell phone networks and power lines (and potentially be much more dangerous than just turning off your lights or cutting off your internet connection).
“It almost has a warmth to it,” said Young. “It’s just enough where I can almost feel the sound on my skin or on my clothes I imagine feeling the sun moving next to me.”
If you want to experience the sun like Earthlings never have before, enter NASA’s new immersive experience, Solarium.