Hearing the Sound of Light

Attention Parents and Teachers of budding astronomy geeks!  Right now, there are blind/visually impaired astronomers, sound engineers, programmers, computer scientists, and design experts actively working on scientific tools to explore the universe that are sound-based. The human ear has many advantages oversight for detecting patterns in sound while screening out noise. People who make greater use of hearing for navigation and communication will soon have new tools in hand to investigate and make discoveries. So, don’t let anyone tell you that the young person in your life who has a visual impairment or is blind cannot have a career in science.  

Science interest in young people often emerges first as a love for Legos, race cars, dismantling the kitchen cupboards, and my personal favorite, astronomy. The trick is to provide people with accessible experiences at any age that help build an understanding of astronomy through sound in the same way that fully-sighted individuals can pick up books and magazines with engaging pictures and straight-forward explanations.

The Space Telescope Science Institute (that’s the Hubble people) is taking on a new project to translate the measurements of the changing brightness of stars into sound. This process is called sonification. The tools they are making today will soon be used by sighted and blind/visually impaired astronomers to make discoveries about planets beyond our solar system and the life-cycles of stars. This project is called Astronify. One of the people on this project is Jennifer Kotler. Her job is to make sure that the science that goes into Astronify is shared with people everywhere but especially with young people and their families so they can learn about astronomy and maybe join the team in the future.  

Jennifer, with help from GLAS Education, has created three videos. The first one featured here explains what sonification is and how we can listen to data of a star’s brightness changing over time. This change over time is called a light curve. Enjoy this video and do tell us what you think about the video in the comments below or ask us a question.