Editorial Feature

Listening to the Sounds of a Black Hole

Using a process called sonification, researchers and musicians have created music from the Universe’s most massive and mysterious objects, black holes. 

Mikromedas AdS/CFT 001 (Preview)

Video Credit: Valery Vermeulen/Youtube.com

In 2019, humanity captured the first image of a supermassive black hole. The image of the black hole at the center of the galaxy Messier 87 (M87), located 55 million light-years from Earth, at least partially solved the conundrum of what regions of space look like.

However, it left some researchers and space enthusiasts with another question: what do black holes sound like?

That question can now also be at least partially answered thanks to the work of researchers and musicians including Valery Vermeulen, Thomas Hertog, and physicist Matthias Kaminski

The team has created an album of electronic music composed using data associated with black holes. Vermeulen selected this data from both simulations of these titanic cosmic events, but also from gravitational-wave detections from mergers between black holes out in the Universe.

Additional sources included simulations of the behavior of elementary particles around black holes and white dwarfs and neutron stars.

The data was gathered and produced in collaboration with several academic partners, which include the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Alabama (US), the Institute for Theoretical Physics at KU Leuven (BE), the Centre for mathematical Plasma Astrophysics at KULeuven (BE) ), and the Department of Mathematics at the University of Antwerp (BE). 

This data was processed using a specially designed sonification system that combines music and mathematics to create what has been described by Vermeulen’s studio as “otherworldly expansive soundscapes, that guide us into the higher dimensional realms of deep space and reality.”

The resultant album is set to be released by the UK-based record label Ash International in December 2021 and will be titled Mikromedas AdS/CFT 001.

A preview of the album, which was mastered by Simon Scott (SPS Mastering) a member of the band Slowdive is available to listen to on the researcher’s SoundCloud account.

The album is part of a wider project by Vermeulen called Mikromedas which has been ongoing since 2014.

This element of the work focuses on the quest for a general theory in physics that would unite both worlds of quantum physics and Einstein’s general theory of relativity. 

What Is Quantum Gravity?

Quantum physics is science’s best description of the physics that governs the world of particles, while Einstein’s theory of general relativity is our best description of the physics of the truly massive — planets, stars, and black holes.

Both of these theories have been experimentally verified over and over again and have yielded results that not only verify their accuracy but have spawned a multitude of technological advancements. 

Likewise, both theories link up quite nicely with Newton’s theories of motion and gravity, the best description we have of physics on an everyday scale. Yet, a problem remains. The theories are incompatible. 

Much of this arises from the fact that while general relativity is the best description of gravity science has, quantum physics has no description of gravity at all.

The search for a quantum description of one of the Universe’s four fundamental forces has involved several suggestions such as the idea that particles could be made up of fiber-like strings suggested by string theory, from the mathematics of which gravity emerges. 

black holes, white dwarfs, gravity, quantum, mikromedas

Image Credit: Lyu Hu/Shutterstock.com

A successful theory of quantum gravity would lead to what is known as a grand unified theory (GUT) of physics. A model of particle physics in which at high energies the four fundamental forces of physics — electromagnetism, gravity, and the strong and weak nuclear forces — unite as a single force.

Both of these fields play a central role in the practical realization of this Mikromedas series,” Vermeulen explains on her website. “The elaboration of this series aims at the realization of sonic and musical experiences where various mathematical simulation models and the data they produce coming from Quantum Gravity and GUT are used as compositional instruments.”

The project follows another series in the Mikromedas project, the epic story of the journey to a distant ice world, orbiting a cold red star.

A Musical Journey to a Distant World

The Mikromedas project series OGLE2005BLG390Lb tells the story of a journey to the distant exoplanet — a planet outside the solar system — OGLE2005BLG390Lb. This world is an icy super-Earth — a rocky planet that is much larger than our own — which orbits a red star that dwells near the supermassive black hole Sagittarius A* at the center of the Milky Way.

The exoplanet OGLE2005BLG390Lb — which was discovered in 2006 using a range of telescopes including the Danish 1.54m telescope at ESO La Silla (Chile) — has a surface temperature of 220 degrees Centigrade below zero, too cold for liquid water. That means that while it probably has a thin atmosphere, like the Earth, its rocky surface is likely deeply buried beneath frozen oceans. That means that despite its label of “Super-Earth” it is more likely to resemble a massive version of Pluto, rather than a rocky planet like Earth.

The journey to OGLE2005BLG390Lb is well suited to an epic tale, as the icy exoplanet is located 20,000 light-years from Earth.

Not only can listeners immerse themselves in that journey, but in December with the album Mikromedas AdS/CFT 001 they can visualize the tremendous stellar remnants like black holes, white dwarves, and neutron stars that they may encounter on their 20,000 light-year journey.

This album, and the live performance that will accompany it, plus the other aspects of the performance consist of compositions all created by using data stemming from space and deep space and astrophysical simulation models. 

The project originally started as a work commissioned by the Dutch Electronic Art Festival (DEAF Festival) held in Rotterdam.

References and Further Reading: 

Valery Vermeulen, Soundcloud, [https://www.valeryvermeulen.net/epk_mikromedas_adscft001/]

Beaulieu, JP., Bennett, D., Fouqué, P., et al, [2021], ‘Discovery of a cool planet of 5.5 Earth masses through gravitational microlensing.’ Nature, [https://doi.org/10.1038/nature04441]

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the author expressed in their private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of AZoM.com Limited T/A AZoNetwork the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and conditions of use of this website.

Robert Lea

Written by

Robert Lea

Robert is a Freelance Science Journalist with a STEM BSc. He specializes in Physics, Space, Astronomy, Astrophysics, Quantum Physics, and SciComm. Robert is an ABSW member, and aWCSJ 2019 and IOP Fellow.


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