Space Music: Supernova Sonatas and Neil's Armsong

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Supernovae are among the most powerful events in the universe. These dying stars can burn as bright as a billion suns. They outshine whole galaxies and birth the beginnings of new cosmic bodies. So what happens when you give one access to a grand piano and a stand-up bass?

Enter astronomy graduate student Alex Harrison Parker from Canada's University of Victoria. Parker took three years' worth of supernovae observation data (covering four sections of the sky) from the  Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope, sped the video up to 15-days-per-second and assigned each supernova a note. The result can be listened to above.

Parker goes into all the details on his website, but the actual notes and instrumentation choices break down like this:

"The volume of the note is determined by the distance to the supernova, with more distant supernova being quieter and fainter. "The pitch of the note was determined by the supernova's 'stretch,' a property of how the supernova brightens and fades. Higher stretch values played higher notes. The pitches were drawn from a Phrygian dominant scale. "The instrument the note was played on was determined by the properties of the galaxy which hosted each supernova. Supernovae hosted by massive galaxies are played with a stand-up bass, while supernovae hosted by less massive galaxies are played with a grand piano."

It's just another great example of astronomical sonification, and the music is quite nice on its own. You can download the audio version of "Supernova Sonata" on SoundCloud.

But of course space music need not line up with astronomical data. A beautiful tune and footage of Neil Armstrong's head will suffice. Just consider the following track, "Neil's Armsong," by electronic artist Mark Van Hoen. The Locust album "In Rememberance Of Times Past " featured the 1987 track, and Hoen himself recently linked the following video on his Twitter feed:

It's an early example of Hoen's work, but he provides an excellent sample of his more recent work on his official website. I'm personally a big fan of the 1999 album "Playing With Time."

So there you have it! You can find the Stuff to Blow Your Mind podcast on iTunes, Zune and the RSS feed. And don't forget the free HowStuffWorks App!

Originally published at HSW: Space Music: Supernova Sonatas and Neil’s Armsong

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