The silent world that is space can also give birth to some quite unusual sounds as was demonstrated by the incredible bit of music created by scientists from… images of a sunrise.
The ‘score’ from researchers at the Anglia Ruskin University in the UK, comes from the 5,000th picture taken of the sunrise by the small robot known as Opportunity, a machine launched by NASA on 8th July 2003 which is still rolling around on the surface of Mars.
To turn this image into sound, British specialists developed an algorithm capable of identifying each individual pixel within the photo, from left to right and analysing the brightness and colour characteristics.
By combining this data with that of the altitude of the Martian terrain, the software has assigned each pixel to a different pitch. These combined ‘musical notes’ have created a gliding melody that was uploaded to the internet last week.
An acoustic and visual atmosphere
The slow and ethereal sound atmosphere which acts as the foundation throughout the piece is the result of musically transcribing the dark background of the image. The high-pitched and short notes which punctuate the heart of the piece meanwhile represent the sound translation of the bright ring formed by the sun. This method of changing data into a melody is also known as ‘sonification’.
‘We are delighted to be able to present this piece from such a fascinating planet,’ says Doctor Domenico Vicinanza, director of the Sound and Game Engineering (SAGE) research group. This melody will be masterfully presented at the Supercomputing SC18 Conference in Dallas, United States.
Domenico Vicinanza and his colleague Genevieve Williams from the University of Exeter will play the melody which they have entitled ‘Mars Soundscapes’ via both audio speakers and vibrational transducers. This world premiere will allow privileged members of the public to feel the vibrations in their hands and literally experience a Martian sunrise, whilst still sat in their chair.
A very important development
As well as the impromptu combination of both science and poetry that is this melody, it is also an incredible step forward in the world of science due to the algorithms that were developed for this project.
‘Image sonification is a really flexible technique to explore science and it can be used in several domains, from studying certain characteristics of planet surfaces and atmospheres to analysing weather changes or detecting volcanic eruptions,’ listed Domenico Vicinanza.
‘In health science, it can provide scientists with new methods to analyse the occurrence of certain shapes and colours, which is particularly useful in image diagnostics,’ concludes Domenico Vicinanza. From art to science, it was just one step, that has once again been taken masterfully.