Saturday, October 31, 2015

There is no sound in space (or is there?)

(You can pickup some threads with this picture here)

In space, no one can hear you scream! That's what the tagline from the film Alien taught a generation of folks. Well, at least it taught some part of a generation. Well, maybe it only slightly hinted at an idea for a minimal fraction of some part of a generation. Or something like that. 

Too many times we've gone to the movies to see yet another sci-fi adventure with spaceships blasting each other with phasers and lasers and things that go "boom", all making lots of noises that some sound technicians likely spent hours in a studio putting together. And, most of the time it seems, these films get space completely wrong. 

Humans cannot hear in the vacuum of space. We can't. Since sound waves need a medium through which to travel and space generally offers nothing of the sort, there will be no propagation of sound from space battles, Star Destroyers traveling past you, or your fellow astronaut screaming from inside their space suit as they drift away from the ship after forgetting to attach their tether (unless, of course, they're screaming into their radio communication system).

Check out this vid from Coma Niddy at Sci Code on Space Myths

Star Trek, Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, and more: the sounds of the spaceships and space battles and other spacey stuff in most of our television and films seem to show an utter lack of understanding on the part of the populace general. Even if filmmakers know that there shouldn't be sounds in space, it seems like most of them pander to the ignorance of the people by adding sounds to space. There are some who get it right, though. The cult sensation Firefly was well-known for presenting the lack of sound waves in space. 2001: A Space Odyssey, Gravity, and a few others also present the silence of space to the audience.

But hold on now, you might be thinking. Slow your roll, Cosmo Boy. Perhaps you've heard that NASA has recordings of some sounds from space. So what's up with that?

Just because sound waves don't generally propagate through space doesn't mean there's nothing for us to hear out there. For instance, several spacecraft (including the Voyager, Injun, and Hawkeye spacecraft) have had instruments capable of detecting the interactions of various particles with the ionospheres and magnetospheres of planets as well as the solar wind. The electromagnetic interactions spread over a large range of vibrations, but a lot of them are in the 20-20,000 Hz range in which we humans hear. NASA has released lots of these sound data sets online, including files primed for ringtones and notification sounds. Here's a video compilation of some of these sounds from our solar system (definitely awesome!):

Pretty cool, huh?!

Well, guess what? There's more.

As if listening to the interactions of the planets with the space environment weren't awesome enough, we can also take data from many our observations of the universe and convert those data into sound files. This is done through a process called sonification. For instance, we can take the Kepler light curves of stars and convert those light curves into sounds, allowing us to listen to the data. We can listen to the variations in the stars and we can even listen to the dips in the light curves as exoplanets transit in front of the stars. 

Sounds that are produced in this way aren't anything you would naturally hear, but they're still pretty awesome. For instance, this video presents a chorus of sounds produced through the sonification of light curves:

That's some eerie stuff. We can use sonification to convert all kinds of data into sounds, but listening to the processes occurring so far away in some way seems haunting and yet inspiring. Pod Academy recorded an episode called The Sounds of Space back in 2012 which can give you a fuller description of some of the cool stuff that what we can listen to from our observations of space. It's definitely worth a listen.

So even though no one can hear you scream in space, and even though all those spaceships going "pew pew pew" with their lasers and phasers and such in science fiction movies is a bunch of silliness (even if it does sound cool), there are some awesome things that we can really hear from our observations of space, either actual interactions of matter that cause vibrations in our hearing range or from data that we've converted to sounds. 

If you'd like to hear some more, I have another post to accompany this one that includes several embedded videos with the sounds from some of the worlds of our solar system.

(Image from PRX)

The Sounds of the Planets

Below are some awesome videos that have sounds recorded from various spacecraft that let us listen to some of the interactions of matter and energy in our solar system. You can find these audio files and more from NASA's website for space sounds.







Thursday, October 22, 2015

Gosh by Jamie xx, video by Erik Wernquist

Perhaps you recall late last year seeing Erik Wernquist's film "Wanderers", a fantastically beautiful video that hit the interwebs and went viral. If not, click on the link above and be stunned by a beautiful interweaving of imagery and videos from NASA edited together and augmented with effects generated by Erik Wernquist, and all played while you hear Carl Sagan reading from Pale Blue Dot.

Erik Wernquist has produced another film, this time as a music video for the song "Gosh" by Jamie xx, and this film is just as awesome. The video shows us Mars. At first, it's just Mars from afar and the song is repetitive and just running the beat. The song builds as we begin exploring Mars. We then see what might happen in some of our earliest developments of the Red Planet. Then Wernquist and Jamie xx take us on an audiovisual exploration of where terraforming of Mars might take us in the not-too-distant but also not-too-soon future.

I'm excited to share it with you here. I highly recommend that you turn up the volume and watch this video in full screen:

Dig it? Ya, I thought so. Sometimes I think about the soon-to-come human exploration of Mars and where that might lead to. I think about where the children of Mars will focus their endeavors and what they'll think of us, the ancients. I wonder what might happen as the millennia and the epochs slide by. All of this and more is coming. Gosh...

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Shark in the Milky Way: a Hawaiian Legend

The Milky Way as seen through the Hawaiian trees, by active KÄ«lauea (photographed by Sean King)
There are a great many myths that our ancestors created to explain the white and dark patches of the Milky Way in their night's sky. Looking up to see this band of light in the sky, some of them would liken it to a great river or a walkway, while some others thought it was the remnant flames of a horse-rider or chariot dragging starlight or sunlight across the sky. Many of our ancestors, including the Norse and the Algonquin peoples, thought of the Milky Way as a path, perhaps leading to Valhalla or a great village, which their friends and family could follow once they had died. 

The Polynesian peoples commonly thought of the Milky Way as a great river or sea in the heavens, though many of their legends include mention of a great shark. The people of Tuamotus, for instance, considered the Milky Way the sacred ocean of the god Kiho-tumu, and great dark patch in the Milky Way was formed from his ship, which was known as The-Long-Shark. Indeed, many of the Polynesian peoples of various regions had legends that included a shark or great fish swimming in the Milky Way.

Rena Ekmanis' Canoe at Night

Last night I was reading Vivian L. Thompson's "Hawaiian Myths of Earth, Sea, and Sky" (as some of you know, I'm working on another planetarium talk - this one will deal with mythologies of the heavens and connecting ancient people to our modern pursuits in space exploration). One of the stories Thompson shares is called "The Shark in the Milky Way". It tells of one of the adventures of the trickster god Ka-ulu. Here is a very-brief paraphrasing of that story:

This version holds that Ka-ulu's brother, Ka-ehu, had been abducted by a great king, a chief of Far Island. Ka-ulu becomes Ka-ulu-the-Strong and decides to find his brother. 

The king fears Ka-ulu, so he sends Great-Rolling-Surf to kill the strong man. Ka-ulu uses his strength to break the Great-Rolling-Surf into little waves.

The king then sends Great-Stone-Man-with-Eight-Foreheads, a giant made of stone. When this giant attacks, Ka-ulu grabs him and holds him down until the ground and grass and trees grow over him. The Great-Stone-Man thus becomes a stone mountain with eight rolling hills.

The king send his Great-Barking-Dog to attack Ka-ulu, but the latter uses his strong hands to break the Great-Barking-Dog into pieces, each of which became a little barking dog that ran off in fear.

Ka-ulu approaches the king's mountain home. The king throws Great-Rock at Ka-ulu as he climbs the mountain. Ka-ulu crushes the Great-Rock into many little pebbles.

Ka-ulu then approaches the king and places his strong hands on the king's throat. Threatening the king's life, Ka-ulu asks for the whereabouts of his brother. The king, a weakling and fearful for his life, tells Ka-ulu to go ask the Chief of Sharks about the location of Ka-ehu.

Ka-ulu goes to Chief of Sharks and asks where Ka-ehu can be found. Chief of Sharks tells Ka-ulu that Ka-ehu is inside of his great stomach, but there is room for two if Ka-ulu would like to join him. 

Knowing better than to be eaten by a great shark, Ka-ulu grabs the Chief of Sharks by his jaws and pulls them so wide that Ka-ehu can walk out of the shark's stomach. Before Ka-ulu and Ka-ehu leave, Ka-ulu grabs the Chief of Sharks and throws him into the sky. The great shark's body breaks upon and the heavens and shatters into millions of pieces, forming the great white streak across the sky that we now know as the Milky Way.

What would you think of the heavens above if you were alone on a canoe in the great sea? Would you create your own myths and legends from the patterns in the stars, the wanderings of the planets, or the patches of the Milky Way? (image from Thompson's book)

If you'd like to read a bit more about the legends of Ka-ulu, definitely check out the Asia-Pacific Digital Library's versions of the stories. I'll soon be putting together a post that will outline the talk I'll be giving on the constellations and mythology, so stay tuned for that.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Wicked Awesome Space Art by Kerstin Jacobs

A sweet painting that envisions the New Horizons flyby of Pluto earlier this year
Here's some awesomeness to brighten your day. All the images on this post are from an artist named Kerstin Jacobs. You can find these and more at Jacobs' website and Instagram and Twitter accounts. For instance, check out this rad piece of work:

I think my favorite piece from what Jacobs has online is this image of Jupiter and the Galilean Moons. You may recall that my graduate research has some relevance to our astrobiological investigations of the icy worlds of our solar system, so worlds like Europa and Ganymede have a special place in my thoughts:

I highly recommend checking out the rest of Kerstin Jacobs' work. Definitely some kickin' space art!

Friday, October 2, 2015

A Dream Within a Dream - Edgar Allan Poe

Sometimes our reflections of our own lives can lead us to find surprising things. Some of those things we cherish, some of those things make us feel guilty, some of those things seem like they should've been in someone else's life, not our own. I'm having just such a moment of reflection, so I thought I'd share one of my favorite poems. Enjoy.

A Dream Within a Dream
            By Edgar Allan Poe

Take this kiss upon the brow!
And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avow —
You are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone? 
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.

I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand —
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep — while I weep!
O God! Can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Why aren't the rest of us living in space yet?

Space art from NASA made in the 1970s (find more here)
We've read and seen stories and films for decades now that suggest a future where humans will live in space. From colonizing other planets to traveling through interstellar space, many people have dreamed of a human future beyond Earth. So why hasn't it happened yet? 

After sending twelve men to the Moon in the 1960s and 1970s and supporting ventures of government organizations to send astronauts into low Earth orbit (LEO) since that time, we still don't live in a world where the rest of us can easily get into space. Of course, a large part of the argument for why this hasn't happened comes down to economics and initiative, but there are also many who would argue that we're not yet ready for it. Some may say that we need to figure out how to be better citizens of the Earth before we try to be citizens of space. 

That may seem like a flawed argument to space exploration advocates, but it's an argument that I've heard many times. I'm going to start working on another article considering what it will take to advance our human future in space, but I'd like some community input before I do that. Comment on this post or hit me up on Twitter or Facebook with your ideas about whether or not we should venture into space and why. Also, I'd like to know the reasons people suspect for why the past dreams of our future in space have not yet come to fruition. Please, tell me:

Why aren't the rest of us living in space yet?