Listening to the Northern lights

Given an electronic signal, you can turn this into sound. Physicists sometimes use this as a way to understand data or, more likely, as a neat way of bringing the data alive for the general public. One example is the Sound of the Big Bang, an aural rendering of the cosmic microwave background. The original microwave signal is treated as sound and shifted up in frequency by a huge amount so it is within the audible frequency range.[1]

What about the aurora borealis?

The Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, shines above Bear Lake

The Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, shines above Bear Lake

The programme below, originally produced for Resonance FM, investigates Very Low Frequency (VLF) radio waves including: power lines, the Underground and the Northern Lights. Crackling sounds like sizzling bacon, and strange whistles, chirps and cheeps can be heard.

Not always pleasant to listen to, these sounds bring to life the invisible electromagnetic signals from all around us. Have you heard any other aural renditions of data? Please comment below.


[1] Sound (c) John G. Cramer – 2013

[2] United States Air Force photo by Senior Airman Joshua Strang


3 responses to “Listening to the Northern lights

  1. From a very different field – one of Radiolab’s episodes (Sleep has a recording of animal brain electrical activity which sounds pretty remarkable.

  2. Pingback: Listening to the Northern Lights: part 2 | The Sound Blog

  3. Thanks Trevor; not being from a sound background, so to speak, I have not really come into contact with this sort of frequency-shifting before, but it is a fascinating concept. It brings to mind the images of the early universe with the wavelengths shifted into the visible range (at least I think that’s how they do it).

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