The Song of the Universe: NASA 'Sonified' the Discovery of 5,000 Exoplanets
As humans do, when the planet feels doomed, we look up. It’s the oldest form of escapism on Earth. The limitless expanse of the Universe gives us reasons to still feel hopeful, and NASA’s ceaseless discoveries never fail to make us feel humbled at our little corner of the galaxy.
And they’ve done it again, this time with the sounds of the discovery of the 5,000 planets located outside our galaxy. NASA’s latest data sonification project turned the discovery 5,000 exoplanets into a 1:17-minute song encapsulating the history of human progress in astronomy.
NASA transformed data into animations and sounds to give users a visual and auditory experience of how exoplanets were discovered by humans, starting in the year 1991. Each new world is given a note, and its pitch indicates the relative orbital period of the planet. The longer it takes for the planet to orbit its stars, the lower the note in the “song.” Conversely, the faster it takes for the planet to orbit its stars, the higher the note in the “song.”
Meanwhile, each planet is also animated with a circle to note its position in the sky. Each circle also indicates the relative size of the planet’s orbit and the color depends on the planet detection method used to discover it.
Astronomers and physicists slowly began to discover exoplanets in the ‘90s, and for a while, humans only discovered a handful of new planets per year. But as time went on, our technology improved, allowing us to see more of the universe beyond our galaxy. The song grows faster and more melodic as humans discovered more of the universe.
The visuals also indicate how a grid-like pattern starts to form after 2009 when NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope launched. According to NASA, the sheer quantity of discoveries can be attributed to the telescope because, “Everywhere the telescope looked, it discovered planets.”
NASA met its 5,000 exoplanet discovery in March 2022, and these are only the ones we can see. Astronomers have long estimated that there are billions, trillions, quintillions of planets in the great expanse of space, and we’ve only scratched the surface.
NASA has sonified the stars before. They’ve created songs from the Butterfly Nebula, the Bubble Nebula, and even Deep Space. Check out the mystical—and sometimes eerie—sounds below.