The Sound of Space Discovery

GÉANT helps to transform Voyager data into a musical duet.

As an accessible way to demonstrate the power of high speed networks for research and education, GÉANT included a fascinating demonstration at the NASA booth, at SuperComputing (SC13) in November. Domenico Vicinanza, who is GÉANT's Network Services Product Manager and also holds the role of Arts and Humanities Manager combined data sonification techniques and a love of music to transform 36 years' worth of NASA Voyager spacecraft data into a fantastic musical duet.


What is Voyager?

Launched in 1977, both Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 are now decommissioned but still recording and sending live data to Earth. They continue to traverse different parts of the universe, billions of kilometers apart. Voyager 1 left our solar system last year, becoming the first human-made object to enter the previously unexplored interstellar space. It is claimed to have travelled further than anyone, or anything, in history.


Commenting on the duet, Domenico said: "I wanted to compose a musical piece celebrating Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 together, so used the same measurements (proton counts from the cosmic ray detector over the last 36 years) from both spacecraft, at the exact same point of time, but at several billion kilometers apart. I used different groups of instruments and different sound textures to represent the two spacecraft, synchronising the measurements taken at the same time."

The result is an up-tempo string and piano orchestral piece. You can listen for yourself at GÉANT's SoundCloud channel.


Profile raising

The musical score has now been made available through GÉANT's social media sites, and the world's media have flocked to the story - including coverage in the UK's mainstream titles The Guardian, The Telegraph and the Daily Mail (a combined audience of nearly 40 million), as well as on BBC Radio 2 and the Today programme on Radio 4. Further afield, coverage appeared in tech stalwarts GigaOm, Wired, ANSA, New York Times Science and many more, representing a further 5 million readership.


The popularity of this story (and Domenico's sonification of the Higgs-like Boson) reinforces the public's continued fascination with science and outer space, and how, by making high profile scientific events such as these more accessible and fun, it raises the profile of both GÉANT and other high-speed networks in supporting them.


How was it done?

320,000 measurements were first selected from each spacecraft, at one hour intervals. Then that data was converted into two very long melodies, each comprising 320,000 notes using different sampling frequencies, from a few KHz to 44.1 kHz.


The result of the conversion into waveform, using such a big dataset, created a wide collection of audible sounds, lasting just a few seconds (slightly more than 7 seconds at 44.1 kHz) to a few hours (more than 5 hours using 1024Hz as a sampling frequency). A certain number of data points, from a few thousand to 44,100 were each 'converted' into 1 second of sound. Using the grid computing facilities at EGI, GÉANT was able to create the duet live at the NASA booth at SuperComputing 2013 using its superfast network to transfer data to/from NASA.


This article appeared in CONNECT Issue #14, January 2014.


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