Hear The Sun Sing

Your kindergarten teacher warned you not to look directly at the sun, but not to worry: now you can listen to it sing, instead. Scientists have long tracked the intensity and patterns of the sun’s “wind” through the solar system and around planets (solar wind is essentially a stream of very enthusiastic particles emitted by the sun), but they’ve done so with boring graphs and charts. Now, researchers at the University of Michigan have turned that data into sound, trading their dry charts in for an ethereal, pulse-quickening song, or “sonification” of data. And in this case, hearing is believing: the song-stream will indicate changes like rising temperatures or density increases. The composer, Robert Alexander, might use a drum beat to represent the rotation of the sun, for example, or a singer’s voice to represent charging particles.

All very cool and sci-fi, but what’s the point? No one seems to know yet quite what purpose, if any, this new musical manifestation of solar data will serve. The hope is that the ears will pick up something the eyes hadn’t - and that maybe that new perspective will, for example, help scientists mitigate solar storms.

For now though, the guy who came up with the idea – Thomas Zurbuchen, an associate dean in engineering and an atmospheric science professor – is just happy to see the scientific community reaching across disciplines into the unknown. And wouldn’t Einstein agree that reaching into the unknown – for the unreasonable or implausible – is an important component of discovery? As the Big Man once said: “If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?”

And Jim Raines of the Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences is curious to see where the research will take our understanding of the sun, though it hasn’t led to any ground-breaking discoveries just yet. "I am excited for sonification's potential in research, but I think more work will need to be done to realize that potential," said Raines.

One question the project raises on the green front is whether or not this new musical illustration of the sun’s fluctuations and power will be of any help in the quest to harness those fluctuations and power for energy. Hard to imagine people sitting at home or in offices, listening to the sun sing, waiting for the change in pitch that means it’s time to head out to the yard to shift the solar panels 15 degrees to the east. But then, who knows?

Hear it for yourself, with this YouTube video of the sonification, posted by Zurbuchen.

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

The dos and don’ts of helping a drug-addicted person recover

How you talk to people with drug addiction might save their life.

  • Addiction is a learning disorder; it's not a sign that someone is a bad person.
  • Tough love doesn't help drug-addicted people. Research shows that the best way to get people help is through compassion, empathy and support. Approach them as an equal human being deserving of respect.
  • As a first step to recovery, Maia Szalavitz recommends the family or friends of people with addiction get them a complete psychiatric evaluation by somebody who is not affiliated with any treatment organization. Unfortunately, warns Szalavitz, some people will try to make a profit off of an addicted person without informing them of their full options.
Keep reading Show less

4 anti-scientific beliefs and their damaging consequences

The rise of anti-scientific thinking and conspiracy is a concerning trend.

Moon Landing Apollo
  • Fifty years later after one of the greatest achievements of mankind, there's a growing number of moon landing deniers. They are part of a larger trend of anti-scientific thinking.
  • Climate change, anti-vaccination and other assorted conspiratorial mindsets are a detriment and show a tangible impediment to fostering real progress or societal change.
  • All of these separate anti-scientific beliefs share a troubling root of intellectual dishonesty and ignorance.
Keep reading Show less

In a first for humankind, China successfully sprouts a seed on the Moon

China's Chang'e 4 biosphere experiment marks a first for humankind.

Image source: CNSA
Surprising Science
  • China's Chang'e 4 lunar lander touched down on the far side of the moon on January 3.
  • In addition to a lunar rover, the lander carried a biosphere experiment that contains five sets of plants and some insects.
  • The experiment is designed to test how astronauts might someday grow plants in space to sustain long-term settlements.
Keep reading Show less