Despite the epic THX-mastered theatrics of science fiction soundtracks, space is a cold, airless vacuum in which sound does not travel. Nevertheless, celestial objects still produce their own sounds which can sometimes be heard within their own atmospheres or with special instruments. Just as a star’s or planet’s physical composition can reveal much information about its history, so too can the sounds that they emit. To pioneer the study of these sounds, researchers at the University of New South Wales Sydney have devised a method of recording and analyzing the sounds coming from the insides of stars in order to reveal their cosmic origin stories.
The team of astrophysicists used NASA’s Kepler space observatory to record ‘starquakes’ – the massive, turbulent oscillations of energy and plasma inside the hearts of 48 different Red Giant stars in two clusters. Using these otherwordly sounds alone, the researchers were able to correctly determine the directions of each of the stars’ spins. According to UNSW Sydney’s Dennis Stello, this approach could open up completely new avenues of sound-based astronomical research:
Just as seismologists use earthquakes to understand the interior of our planet, we use starquakes to understand the interior of stars. Our new study provides the first evidence that this approach is a powerful way to gain insights into processes that occurred billions of years ago, close to the beginning of the universe.
The authors of this research published in Nature Astronomy claim that the spins of close to 70% of the stars studied in each cluster were closely aligned, meaning that they likely preserved some of their initial directions and momentum after the violent celestial explosions which created them:
It’s remarkable that the imprint of these initial conditions can still be seen billions of years later, by studying tiny oscillations in stars that are many light years away.
It’s a mystifying thought: the songs of the stars are like the soundtrack of the very origin of the universe. Sounds like one hell of a prog rock concept album if you ask me.