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A musician composes a solar soundtrack

Robert Alexander converts solar data into sound, revealing hidden messages from our star

By
7:30am, October 22, 2014
long filament of plasma from sun

FLARING OUT  The sun unleashed a long filament of plasma into space on August 31, 2012. Data form these eruptions can be converted into sound.

Before tuning in to the rhythms of the sun, Robert Alexander (left) watched dancers’ movements and translated them into music. “When they got bigger,” he says, “the sound would get bigger.”

Alexander is a graduate student at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, splitting his time between music and solar physics. He’s experimenting with data sonification — the art of converting data into sound.

His dancer-inspired creations caught the ear of physicists working with NASA’s ACE satellite, which measures the constant shower of energetic particles from the sun known as the solar wind. Turning ACE data into audio “was just a matter of unplugging the dancers and plugging in the sun,” he says.

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