TECH

Nasa's New Solar Weather Station Produces Music, Not Data

14/01/2014 14:18 GMT | Updated 23/01/2014 23:56 GMT

Nasa has a new way to check what the weather is like in space. But instead of spitting out data, this thing spits out music.

The new weather tracker is in fact an internet radio station, fed by data from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.

The LRO uses six detectors in its Cosmic Ray Telescope (Crater) to measure different amounts and types of radiation being sent towards Earth from the Sun. That data is used by many different labs and agencies to check on potentially damaging space weather, and to prepare satellites and astronauts aboard ISS accordingly.

the sun nasa

Above: Blend of two images taken by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory of the Sun

But where most visualisations of that data are standard computer models, the new radio station ('CRaTER Live Radio') is different.

Instead of producing charts or graphs, instead it converts the LRO data - in real time - into a stream of continuous music. Instruments are selected based on the levels of radiation detected, and the key and pitch are also altered based on what's happening out in space.

The result is what seems to be a strange but ordinary, computerised music station - but one which can actually be monitored to find out what's happening on the surface of the sun.

"Our minds love music, so this offers a pleasurable way to interface with the data," said the leader of the music project, Marty Quinn of the University of New Hampshire.

"It also provides accessibility for people with visual impairments."

Nasa explains how it works:

"Six pitches are played every second, one for each detector. Higher, tinkly pitches indicate less activity, whereas lower, somber-sounding pitches indicate more activity.

The software selects the primary instrument and a musical key based on recent activity. At the lowest radiation levels, the main instrument will be a piano, playing pitches from one of the major scales. But as the peak radiation level climbs, one of the minor scales will be selected instead, and the piano will be replaced by one of seven other instruments."

In its press release announcing the radio station, the researchers say that the top level of radiation on the normal scale would be represented by a banjo. Beyond that it would switch to another operating range, starting at a piano, then a Marimba, through steel drums and guitars back up to a banjo.

You can listen to the radio station live on the CRaTER website, or via an app which you can download here.