R Aquarii Sonification from Chandra X-Ray Observatory, NASA Telescopes

July 5, 2023
CreditNASA/CXC/SAO/K.Arcand, SYSTEM Sounds (M. Russo, A. Santaguida)
Historical DateJune 20, 2023
  • english

The system called R Aquarii contains two stars — a white dwarf and a red giant — in orbit around each other. In a composite visual image, Hubble data (red and blue) reveal spectacular structures that are evidence of outbursts generated by the pair of stars buried at the center of the image. X-rays from Chandra show a jet from the white dwarf banging into the material surrounding it and creating shock waves. In the sonification of R Aquarii, the piece evolves as a radar-like scan of the image, clockwise starting at the 12 o’clock position. The volume changes in proportion to the brightness of sources in Hubble’s visible light and Chandra’s X-ray image, while the distance from the center dictates the musical pitch (higher notes are farther out). The deep thuds toward the four corners are “diffraction spikes,” which are artifacts from the bright central star. Listeners can hear jets from the white dwarf as the cursor travels near the two o’clock and eight o’clock positions. The ribbon-like arcs captured by Hubble create a rising and falling melody that sounds similar to a set of singing bowls (metal bowls that produce different sounds and tones when struck with a mallet), while the Chandra data are rendered to sound more like a synthetic and windy purr.