Work / Miscellaneous

Whoa! NASA scientists transform a gamma ray burst into a musical score

I became pretty obsessed with the idea of working at NASA after visiting the Kennedy Space Center as a kid and being treated to astronaut’s ice cream (like real ice cream but in small round balls). Then various dream-spoilers (parents, careers advisors and the like) dissuaded me by pointing out that it was all very science-y and quite serious and I was utterly unsuited to this kind of lifestyle, tiny-balled ice cream or not.

But a recent post on the NASA blogs suggest it’s not quite as uptight as I had been led to believe after a project to transform a gamma ray-burst into music (I know!). As the loveable boffins put it: "Thanks to the Fermi Large Area Telescope (LAT), we can extend our sense of sight to “see” the universe in gamma rays. But humans not only have a sense of sight, we also have a sense of sound. If we could listen to the high-energy universe, what would we hear? What does the universe sound like?"

A study of gamma-ray burst GRB 080916C (a massive one, trust me) was analysed and the high-energy photos converted into musical notes, with different photons assigned to different instruments – harp, cello, or piano – based on how likely it was they came from the burst. Visually this might not be the most arresting thing you see today but my word as a concept it’s pretty incredible.

Good work NASA chaps and chapesses, now where do I sign up?