Any ‘Alien’ fan who fears the Xenomorph will tell you that sound does not exist in space. The trouble is, that’s not entirely correct.
NASA published this unnerving sound sample of a black hole in May, during black hole week, demonstrating that space does generate a lot of noise, depending on where you look and how you analyze it.
The video depicts the sounds of a gigantic black hole in the Perseus galaxy cluster, which is more than 200 million light-years away from Earth.
NASA is listening to the vacuum.
The misconception that there is no sound in space originates because most space is a ~vacuum, providing no way for sound waves to travel. A galaxy cluster has so much gas that we've picked up actual sound. Here it's amplified, and mixed with other data, to hear a black hole! pic.twitter.com/RobcZs7F9e
— NASA Exoplanets (@NASAExoplanets) August 21, 2022
The Perseus galaxy cluster is a clump of galaxies surrounded by hot gas that spans 11 million light-years. Those clouds of heated gas are responsible for the sound waves heard in the NASA video (embedded below). Scientists found pressure waves emanating from Perseus’ interior decades ago. These waves can be translated into sound as they ripple across the heated gas around the galaxy cluster.
When sound waves vibrate atoms and molecules in the air, they produce sounds on Earth. Things are a little different in space. Because space is a vacuum, vibrations have no air to vibrate and generate sounds in. Crucially, this does not imply that the vibrations aren’t present. That is the principle applied by NASA scientists in their sound clip.
Perseus’ black hole is sufficiently clo
se to the cluster’s gas clouds that it can generate sound wave vibrations in the form of gas ripples. In 2003, astronomers from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory converted astronomical data from these ripples into sounds. Unfortunately, those sounds were 57 octaves below middle C, making them inaudible to human ears.
Black hole sounds remixed
NASA scaled the sound data up by 57 and 58 octaves to make the sounds in the new tape audible to the human ear, so we can all listen to the gigantic black hole in the center of the Perseus galaxy cluster. NASA stated in a blog post that the sound waves “are being heard 144 quadrillions and 288 quadrillion times higher than their initial frequency.”