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Three years of supernova explosions become beautiful music

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This video is a musical record of over three years worth of Type Ia supernova bursts, which are caused when white dwarf stars explode. University of Victoria astronomer Alex Parker and UC Santa Barbara's Melissa Graham assigned each blast an instrument and musical note depending on its properties. The result is the "Supernova Sonata."

The researchers made use of data from the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope, which detected 241 Type Ia supernovas between April 2003 and August 2006. The video shows each blast in chronological order, with each second of video corresponding to roughly two weeks of real time.


On his website, Parker explains how they translated each supernova blast into the appropriate sound:

Volume = Distance: The volume of the note is determined by the distance to the supernova, with more distant supernova being quieter and fainter.

Pitch = "Stretch:" The pitch of the note was determined by the supernova's "stretch," a property of how the supernova brightens and fades. Higher stretch values played higher notes. The pitches were drawn from a Phrygian dominant scale.

Instrument = Mass of Host Galaxy: The instrument the note was played on was determined by the properties of the galaxy which hosted each supernova. Supernovae hosted by massive galaxies are played with a stand-up bass, while supernovae hosted by less massive galaxies are played with a grand piano.


And, as he points out, the explosions seen here are not to scale, as prety much all of them would be far too bright to be seen with the naked eye by the time they actually reach Earth.

Alex Harrison Parker via NASA.