Dying Stars Write Their Own Swan Songs
January 10, 2014
Alicia Soderberg (Harvard’s astronomy department) studies the death of stars. Often, these final moments come as violent explosions known as supernovae.
Soderberg’s autopsy involves collecting every signal her team can from the explosions: radio waves, light, X-rays.
A few years ago, Soderberg met a graduate student named Wanda Diaz-Merced. Diaz-Merced lost her eyesight years ago, so she studies astronomy not with sight, but with sound.
“I have been able to listen to meteors passing through the atmosphere, solar storms, that is just to give you a gist,” she says. The data from stars, comets and planets all sound different. “Every sound I listen from the skies, it has its own voice.”
Soderberg and her team worked with Diaz to turn the deaths of stars into songs. Each signal collected in the autopsy gets its own part in the orchestra:
“The Radio gets the drums, the X-ray gets the harpsichord, and everything in between gets a different instrument, like a violin or a flute,” Soderberg says. She presented the first of these songs this week at the American Astronomical Society annual meeting in National Harbor, Md.