It sounds like a firework, a bang followed by a crackle of faint sparkles. Then, a background hum builds. Soon, that is overtaken by what sounds like crashing waves. In between them, random notes beep. This is the sound of a black hole. Specifically, a “black hole-star system” around 7800 light years from Earth called V404 Cygni. The firework is the sound of the black hole. This isn’t what a black hole would sound like in reality. It is a soundscape created by NASA to represent data from telescopes. Using sound this way, known as sonification, isn’t new. But in recent years, more and more astronomers are realizing the benefits of “listening” to the universe. “Our auditory system can often discern patterns and extract meaning, even when our visual system is not able to do so,” says Bruce Walker, professor in the Schools of Psychology and Interactive Computing who directs the Georgia Tech Sonification Lab.
How sounds from space are revealing otherwise hidden cosmic phenomena