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10 November, 2017 - 11:53 By Tony Quested

Bowie would have been proud of Cambridge-crafted music from outer space

Dr Domenico Vicinanza

Music created entirely from NASA data beamed back from the Voyager 1 spacecraft and co-crafted by an Anglia Ruskin University academic in Cambridge will be unveiled to the world on Monday (November 13). The music maps the spacecraft's epic 40-year journey.

After Elton John’s ‘Rocket Man’ and David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’ comes this cosmic classic – a three-minute instrumental piece created by Dr Domenico Vicinanza, of Anglia Ruskin University and GEANT, and Dr Genevieve Williams of the University of Exeter using a process called data sonification to map the measurements and flight characteristics to melody, harmony and orchestration.

The sonification is based on measurements coming from the LECP depicting the dramatic changes detected first when Voyager 1 approached Jupiter, then Saturn and finally when it left the solar system in 2012 and entered interstellar space – the region between stars filled with material ejected by the death of nearby stars millions of years ago.

The main melody comes from the sonification of the cosmic ray count and is played by the second violins for data up until 2012, and then by flute, piccolo and glockenspiel. 

Piano and French horns double the violins during the Jupiter and Saturn encounters, highlighting the rising and falling of the cosmic ray count while entering and exiting the atmospheres of the planets.

The transition from the heliosphere to the interstellar space is accompanied in changes in the orchestration and harmony, as well as a change in the music key (tonality) from C major to E flat major.

The cosmic classic will be premiered at the SC17 Supercomputing Conference in Denver and was captured by the spacecraft’s Low-Energy Charged Particle instrument – a special telescope designed to identify protons, alpha particles, and heavier nuclei in space.

Each number, which represents an average 26-day measurement received by NASA's Space Physics Data Facility from 1977 until as recently as last week, is converted into a musical note, creating a melody that accurately follows the entire journey of the spacecraft.

Dr Vicinanza, director of the Sound And Game Engineering (SAGE) Research Group at ARU said: “Our orchestra score is more than just inspired by one of the most successful space missions of all time; it is shaped entirely by Voyager 1's incredible journey.

“Data sonification can play an important role in helping to share scientific discoveries and we hope that by converting 40 years of data into music, listeners will be able to hear aspects of Voyager 1's journey that are perhaps not so obvious when looking at graphs of data.”

• PHOTOGRAPH SHOWS: Dr Domenico Vicinanza

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