Laying down the pulsar beat

The entire universe in blog form
Dec. 20 2011 7:00 AM

Laying down the pulsar beat

A few years back, when I was working on using NASA satellite data to create educational materials for kids, we had this idea of using the steady beats from pulsars in a song. Pulsars are the rapidly-spinning über-dense fantastically-magnetic collapsed cores of exploded stars. As they spin, they emit beams of matter and energy that sweep out into space much like a lighthouse beam, and we see a blip of light when that beam passes over us.

Some pulsars spin hundreds of times per second, some take several seconds to spin once. If you take that pulse of light and translate it into sound, you get a very steady thumping beat with very precise timing. So making it into a song is a natural thought.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

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But we certainly didn't take it as far as the German band Reimhaus did, making a music video out of it! They used several pulsars for their song "Echoes, Silence, Pulses & Waves". So here's the cosmic beat:


Pretty clever. Lots of other people have turned cosmic phenomena into sounds and music, including the Perseid meteor shower, the Phoenix Mars Lander descent, the Earth's aurorae, and even the aurorae from Saturn!

Image credit: NASA. Tip o' the magnetar to Elkin Fricke for sending me the link to the video.


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