Professor Brian Cox explains how supermassive black holes ‘make music’

5 July 2024, 13:44 | Updated: 8 July 2024, 12:16

Professor Brian Cox explains how black holes 'compose music' | Classic FM

By Kyle Macdonald

Physicist, musician and black hole enthusiast Brian Cox explains how NASA has created music from the waves of some of the universe’s biggest black holes – and listens to their incredible sounds.

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Imagine you’re standing at the event horizon of a supermassive black hole – with a mass millions of times greater than the sun, and a gravitational pull so great even light cannot escape. What would you hear?

Well, as Professor Brian Cox explains, probably not very much, owing to the violent, destructive capacity of these immensely powerful forces in the universe.

However, over the last few years, NASA and other space research agencies have been capturing the “sound” of black holes by releasing sonifications of data gathered from them.

NASA has taken data from the waves of matter surrounding a few of our nearest and biggest blackholes, and converted that data into sound. Watch Professor Brian Cox explain in the video above.

Read more: What would music sound like on Mars? We spoke to a planetary scientist to find out...

How do supermassive black holes turn into music? Brian Cox explains to Classic FM.
How do supermassive black holes turn into music? Brian Cox explains to Classic FM. Picture: Classic FM

One black hole particularly renowned for its sound is the one at the centre of the Perseus galaxy cluster.

Astronomers discovered that pressure waves caused ripples in the cluster’s hot gas that could be translated into a note 57 octaves below middle C. NASA have resynthesised the sound so our human ears can hear it.

Sagittarius A* is the supermassive black hole at the centre of the Milky Way. The NASA sonification is made using a radar-like scan, beginning at the 12 o’clock position and sweeping clockwise across the event horizon. The frequencies correspond to the speed of material around the black hole.

These sonifications serve as an alternative way to interpret astronomical data, allowing us to gain a deeper understanding in a way that moves us. They offer us a way beyond sight alone, to capture the sheer beauty and wonder of these marvels of the universe.

Listen to A Symphony of Science with Brian Cox on Classic FM, Saturdays at 9pm.