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Solar sounds inspire music

What does the sun sound like?

In his ongoing efforts to learn more about the interior of the sun by reading the pattern of ripples that are constantly crisscrossing its face, Alexander Kosovichev decided to find out ­ and he wound up inspiring a musical composition.

Kosovichev is a senior research scientist and a member of Stanford's Solar Oscillations Investigation, a team of scientists who are studying new information about the sun. Their data come from a powerful instrument on board the Solar and Heliospheric Observer, a spacecraft built by the European Space Agency and NASA that is sitting at a point about 930,000 miles sunward from Earth.

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The instrument ­ a Michelson Doppler Imager ­ measures the vertical motion of the sun's surface in unprecedented detail. It does so at a million points at once and can detect surface movements as slow as a millimeter per second.

Kosovichev found a simple way to convert these data into the audible range. He simply sped up 40 days of solar data by a factor of 42,000. He posted the results of this experiment on a web page: http://quake.Stanford.EDU:80/~sasha/SOUNDS/sounds.html.

Stephen Taylor, an assistant professor of music at Illinois State University, was composing a wind ensemble piece called Shattering Suns when he heard Kosovichev's sound clip. "This deep, throbbing sound makes the sun come alive for me, and helped inspire the third movement, 'The Heart of the Sun,' " he says.

Excerpts from his work, along with some of the images and drawings that inspired it, are available at Taylor's website:


By David F. Salisbury

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