Sunday, July 4, 2010

Stellar discovery reveals music of the Sun

The Sun, the life-nurturing center of our solar system, not only produces heat and light, scientists say. It also produces sound that's music to the ears of astrophysicists.

Astronomers at the solar physics research group at Sheffield University in England have discovered that the enormous magnetic loops coiling away from the Sun's atmosphere vibrate like the strings of a musical instrument. But that's not all these coronal loops do. Some behave like sound waves traveling through a wind instrument.

Though the sound of the Sun can't be actually recorded (sound waves cannot travel through the near vacuum of space), the Sheffield team was able to re-create it by using cutting edge mathematics and satellite images of the banana-shaped loops to translate the visible vibrations into noises. The process is similar to seismology used by geologists to study earthquakes. The noise is then sped up to a frequency audible to the human ear. The results are strangely rich and harmonic "music." (You can listen below.)

The hope is that this work by Project Sunshine will foster new insight into the workings of the solar corona, the least Sun's outermost, most mysterious component. This new understanding, solar physicists say, could result in answers to the key and central questions of astrophysics.

To learn more about solar music, how it is measured/interpreted and the breakthroughs it could result in, visit Music of the Sun.