The Music of the Stars: Sounds from Space Teaching Astronomy to the Blind

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The National Observatory of Athens and the University of Patras have just launched an exciting new program for space enthusiasts of all ages.

The “Music of the Stars” program is a unique space exhibition that opens its doors to kids and adults in 2021, both in-person and virtually, and unlike other programs of its kind, it teaches the blind the magic of astronomy through real sounds from space.

music of the stars sounds from space
Electromagnetic radiation from a pulsar in the Cancer Nebula. Photo by Kathimerini Newspaper

Presenting breakthrough technology, through this latest project by the National Observatory of Athens, which has been under development for several years, visitors have the chance to experience what being in space looks and sounds like.

A large variety of image and video – both 3D and interactive – material is provided throughout the exhibition, but unlike other, similar space-related programs, The Music of the Stars gives people the unique opportunity to listen to real sounds from space and recordings of sound waves coming from the stars around the universe.

This is something that only astronauts that have actually travelled to space have gotten to experience.

Besides its entertainment character, the program also has an educational purpose for those who have not been able to see photos or videos of what the world outside of our planet looks like.

music of the stars sounds from space
With the new scientific program created by the University of Patras and the National Observatory of Athens, the stars become sound "accessible" to the blind. Photo by Kathimerini Newspaper

“When you talk to students about the Earth's electromagnetic field and how it traps particles, you are not sure to get their attention. If, however, you put the sounds related to that phenomenon, then it is certain that you will grab every listeners attention.

"There is an oxymoron scheme that generally associates astronomy with stunning images from space, but never with sounds. Many people have seen photos from space, but how many have actually heard what our universe sounds like?” said Fiori Metallinou, astronomer at the National Observatory of Athens and member of the Institute for Astronomy, Astrophysics, Space Applications and Remote Sensing (IAASARS).

“The sense of hearing, the utilization of the recorded radio waves from space by satellites, give us scientists amazing data. Sounds definitely enchant the students, so imagine what it can do to a visually impaired person. How much can it help them grasp concepts that they cannot see?” Ms. Metallinou added.

Fioro-Anastasia Metallinou
Photo from Fiori-Anastasia Metallinou Facebook page

The initiative to create the Music of the Stars program belongs to the University of Patras and Andreas Papalamprou, electrical engineer and alumni of the university, who has been a major contributor to the National Observatory’s latest project.

Mr. Papalamprou started developing the Music of the Stars specifically for the blind, after creating various questionnaires that he sent out to the future users of the program, asking them what they are most excited to learn about space and astronomy.

Afterwards, the University of Patras, with the help of a team of scientists from the National Observatory of Athens, designed the program, using cutting-edge technology and visual footage.

In a recent web conference for the launch of the program, Mr. Papalamprou referred to the innovative software that is being used in the project, which can compile phenomena that occur in space, such as a solar eclipse, into sound.

“Firstly, through the questionnaires, we understood how those who cannot see colour or light perceive the concept of space and universe. Then we tried to convert into sound, various images and videos of phenomena that occur in space.

"We also made a special application for tablet devices, where sounds and vibrations change depending on where users are touching the screen, helping them to understand events that take place in space,” Mr. Papalamprou explained.

“People using the application will be able to understand, for example, the outline and shapes of planets, where they are located, or even their colour, which can be ‘translated’ into musical notes through what we call a sound-colour scale.”

The visually impaired will be able to listen to the sound of stars through the new program of UP and NOA

“The University of Patras has an astronomy education department, as well as a polytechnic school for engineers, so we joined forces to complete this project, which is in fact associated with an Erasmus program,” Mr. Papalamprou mentioned.

Several other European universities were also involved in the project and offered their research findings to the University of Patras, which helped speed up the development of the project.

“The results of the team effort from our university and other schools are particularly encouraging, as phenomena that we capture visually have been successfully transferred to the auditory range and so, visually impaired people can also capture the magic of the sky and astronomy.

"We believe that as scientific research and technology advance, we will be able to offer such life-changing gifts to people.”

Sound waves from Earth’s electromagnetic field. Photo by Kathimerini Newspaper

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