Thanks to a historic photograph, we now know what Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole in our galaxy, looks like. Using a process called sonification, scientists transformed the image into sound waves.
At the historic conference on May 12, 2022, teams from the Event Horizon Telescope — the world’s largest virtual telescope — revealed the first photograph of Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way. This is the second photo that has been obtained of a black hole, but scientists will now try to obtain more and perhaps one day capture video.
Until then, analyzing this photograph will already deliver quite a few new elements. In astronomy, a “simple” image contains data and therefore valuable information on the objects studied. A simple color variation, for example, can tell us a lot. It is thanks to this that it is possible to listen indirectly to Sagittarius A*.
The sonification of Sagittarius A*
On the Chandra Observatory website, and on its YouTube channel, scientists revealed audio files on May 13 that allow you to “listen” to the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy.
If the quotes are required, it is because of a subtlety: it is not a direct recording of the sound of the black hole. To do this, it would be necessary to approach it with a probe, which is currently totally impossible (not only is it located 27,000 light-years away, but the probe would probably not have time to survive before to record anything).
To hear Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*), scientists mobilized a process called sonification. This method makes it possible to transform data into acoustic form. In this case, the wavelengths of the black hole image are transformed into sound waves.
“Using radar-like scanning, the sonication begins at the 12 o’clock position and sweeps clockwise. The changes in volume represent the differences in brightness that the EHT [Event Horizon Telescope] a observed around the event horizon of Sgr A* “, explain the scientists of the observatory Chandra.
The highest sound frequencies appear when the scan is closest to the core of the black hole, because the closer you get to it, the faster the material moves, which accelerates the sound waves. There is certainly something fascinating about sonification, but also useful for continuing research around this photo.
The rendering was produced in binaural audio, which is why if you’re listening through headphones, you’ll feel like the sound starts in front of us and then swirls around your head.
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