The sounds of space discovery – Géant transforms 36 years of spacecraft data into a musical duet


Launched in 1977, both Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 are now decommissioned but still recording and sending live data to Earth. They continue to traverse different parts of the universe, billions of kilometres apart. Voyager 1 left our solar system last year.

Spacecraft duet

The project is the work of Domenico Vicinanza, network services product manager at Géant. As a trained musician with a PhD in Physics, he also takes the role of arts and humanities manager, exploring new ways for representing data and discovery through the use of high speed networks. Commenting on the duet he says, ‘I wanted to compose a musical piece celebrating the Voyager 1 and 2 together, so used the same measurements (proton counts from the cosmic ray detector over the last 37 years) from both spacecrafts, at the exactly same point of time, but at several billions of kilometres of distance one from the other.

‘I used different groups of instruments and different sound textures to represent the two spacecrafts, synchronising the measurements taken at the same time.’

The result is an up-tempo string and piano orchestral piece. You can listen for yourself here:

From space data to beautiful music

To compose the spacecraft duet, 320,000 measurements were first selected from each spacecraft, at one hour intervals. Then that data was converted into two very long melodies, each comprising 320,000 notes using different sampling frequencies, from a few KHz to 44.1kHz.

The result of the conversion into waveform, using such a big dataset, created a wide collection of audible sounds, lasting just a few seconds (slightly more than seven seconds at 44.1kHz) to a few hours (more than five hours using 1,024Hz as a sampling frequency). A certain number of data points, from a few thousand to 44,100 were each “converted” into one second of sound.

Using the grid computing facilities at EGI, Géant was able to create the duet live at the NASA booth at Super Computing 2013 using its superfast network to transfer data to/from NASA.

Why this project?

While this project was created as a fun, accessible way to demonstrate the benefit of research and education networks to society, data sonification – representing data by means of sound signals – is increasingly used to accelerate scientific discovery; from epilepsy research to deep space discovery.

Vicinanza continues, ‘Analysing the melody is exactly the same as looking at data in a spreadsheet, but using the ear. The information content is exactly the same: represented by regularities, patterns, changes, trends and peaks. In fact, data sonification makes it possible to get information about long range regularities and correlations that are hard to spot just by inspection.’

Why is Géant so important to scientific discovery?

European scientists are generating an ever increasing amount of data, for instance at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, and in all data driven scientific disciplines such as health and medicine, climate change, energy and food security. Thanks to Géant, researchers across Europe now benefit from a network with a backbone capacity of 100Gbps. When the terabit era arrives, the network can support up to 2Tbps.

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