What Does the Universe Sound Like? – Instant Egghead #49

What Does the Universe Sound Like? – Instant Egghead #49

Have you ever wondered what the universe sounds like? I know, I know…sound doesn’t exist in space because there is no air for sound waves to move through. But there are signals we can translate into audio form. So, what if we replaced our ears with more sensitive instruments? Let’s start close to home… Thousands of kilometers above Earth’s surface sit two rings of charged particles called the Van Allen radiation belts. Disturbances in the radiation belts create the radio waves known as “chorus”. We can detect chorus on Earth, but NASA’s radiation belt storm probes, launched in 2012, are much closer to the belts, which helped them nab this incredibly clear recording. [electronic chirping noises] Chorus isn’t the only sound in our solar system. The sun also makes a lot of noise. Bursts of energy called solar flares produce radio signals that reach Earth. Here’s a flare signal recorded earlier this year by amateur astronomer, Thomas Ashcraft. [electrical static noise] And what about coronal mass ejection; massive amounts of charged particles that go flying off the sun at 200 to 1000 kilometers per second? As these particles ping into spacecraft and other orbiting instruments, they pick up a signal that sounds like this: [sound of electronic splashing and bursting] Another way to listen to the universe is to turn visuals into audio. For example, the twinkle of distant stars can be translated from light waves to sound waves. Take a listen… [low, static humming noises, increasing in pitch] Based on a star’s music, researchers can calculate its size and speed of rotation. And if we want to know what the early universe sounded like, we’ve got the Planck Space Observatory, which created the most accurate map ever of the light left over from the Big Bang known as the cosmic microwave background. Physicist John Cramer, of the University of Washington, turned all that data into audio files. These clips compress the first 760,000 years of the universe into seconds. [electronic, buzzing noise, decreasing in pitch] You can hear the intensity of the cosmic microwave background increasing and decreasing. As the universe expands and stretches, the pitch gets lower and lower. So as you can see, I mean, hear…even without sound waves, our universe is a pretty noisy place. For Scientific American’s Instant Egghead, I’m Sophie Bushwick.


  1. It's unreal to me how few views these videos get. Instant Egghead is incredible! Keep it up Scientific American, just know that us true science lovers really appreciate the work that you do.

  2. Cause World Internet User Stats only show that 2.4 Billion people have internet connection. Would be kinda hard for people with no internet to watch it.

  3. Actually sound DOES exist in space, because space is never completely empty. Some googling indicates that the sound speed in interstellar clouds (where stars come from..) is about 0.2 km/s. However the gas is very thin, so the sound would be very difficult to detect without a really, really, REALLY good amplifier.

  4. بــســم الله الرحمن الرحيم ( (تسبح له السموات السبع والأرض ومن فيهن وإن من شيء إلا يسبح بحمده ولكن لا تفقهون تسبيحهم إنه كان حليما غفورا) [الإسراء: 44].
     b-ismi-llāhi r-raḥmāni r-raḥīmi. It is sometimes translated as "In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful"
    44 The seven heavens and the earth, and all beings therein, declare His glory: there is not a thing but celebrates His praise; And yet ye understand not
    how they declare His glory! Verily He is Oft-Forbear, Most Forgiving!
    this the transalation from the holy book of Qura'n it tells us that stars and planets  in space worship the mighty god"ALLAH" AND THAY pray to his mighty all the time but we humans do not figure out or understand the language thay use like for example : you are speaking only english language and you go to a country speaking arab language and her people talking but you can not figure what are thay saying because youre simply do not know how to speack arabic its go same here 🙂

  5. Actually, sound, that is, pressure waves do exist in space, but only at ultra low frequencies.  However, space is filled with a thin gas of charged particles called plasma, and since these particles are charged, they can interact at a distance via electric and magnetic fields and can propagate audible-frequency waves without the need to collide.  These are known as plasma waves.  The chorus waves mentioned in this video, measured in situ by the Van Allen Probes spacecraft, are not radio waves, but are plasma waves, which, considering that they involve oscillating particles and occur at audible frequencies are also just a bit like sound in space, although far too quiet for a human ear to hear.

    Intrigued?  I'll give you one guess where you might find more information . . .

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