075  |  Listening to Data From Space with Scott Hughes


Dear friends, we are really excited to publish our first “data sonification” episode ever! After many years of searching for the right person, subject and format, we are happy to publish this fantastic episode with Scott Hughes from MIT. Scott is an astrophysicist and a key figure at LIGO, the laser interferometer project that finally allowed scientists to “listen” to the sound of two colliding black holes.

Here Scott talks about how he decided to sonify his data and how sonification is being used by scientists to understand astrophysical phenomena.

Listen as we play a number of samples; Scott walks us through their meaning and the physics behind them. It’s really really cool. Warm up your ears!

You can also listen to some samples from Scott Hughes and his team here:



  • Simulation of a final collision of two massive black holes, what Scott calls “the ringing mode” of a black hole. All that is audible is the last “pop” of the system settling down to a single black hole.


  • Two objects moving past each other in space. The gravitational waves in this case are loud when the small body moves close to the large body (its motion is fast during that part of the orbit), and they are quiet when the small body is far away (when its motion is slow).


  • Also, take a look at the many links that we have added below. You can listen to the sounds yourself and discover a number of additional sonification projects.

Huge thanks to Scott for spending so much time with us preparing the sounds and recording the show. We loved it!

This episode of Data Stories is sponsored by CartoDB. CartoDB is an open, powerful, and intuitive platform for discovering and predicting the key facts underlying the massive location data in our world. Whether you are a business, government agency, or simply a lover of revolutionary spatial insight technology, don’t settle for anything less than the best interactive maps around. Learn how CartoDB is shaping the world of location intelligence at cartodb.com/gallery.


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