A Sonata of Supernovae – Music of Stellar Explosions

Supernovae are the most powerful explosions in the universe this side of the Big Bang itself. There are a souple of different ways for stars to go supernova, but Type 1a Supernovae shine with a well-known brightness. Thanks to this characteristic, astronomers can use these explosions to measure the distances to their host galaxies, and figure out cool things such as the expansion of the universe.

They can also be used to create music. Feat your eyes and ears (be sure to go full screen to see the fireworks):

This eerie, hypnotic tune was created by Dr. Alex Parker, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Alex used survey data from the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (CFHT) over a three-year period from 2003 – 2006. During this time, 241 Type Ia supernovae were detected in the four star fields surveyed.

Alex assigned each supernova a unique note based on the following criteria:

Volume = Distance: The volume of the note is determined by the distance to the supernova, with more distant supernova being quieter and fainter.

Pitch = “Stretch:” 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.

Instrument = Mass of Host Galaxy: 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.

The result is a mesmerizing sonata without a rhythm, tempo, or measure, played for us by the titanic destruction of stars in the distant past.

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