Scientists translate Martian sunrise image into music

LondonUsing the photo of the 5,000th sunrise on Mars captured by NASA’s rover Opportunity, British scientists have created a two-minute piece of music.

The soundtrack was created by scanning a picture from left to right, pixel by pixel, and looking at the brightness and colour information and combining them with terrain elevation.

The team used a technique called “data sonification” that deployed computer algorithms to assign each element a specific pitch and melody to translate a photograph into music.

“We are absolutely thrilled about presenting this work about such a fascinating planet,” said Domenico Vicinanza, Director of the Sound and Game Engineering (SAGE) research group at Anglia Ruskin.

“Image sonification is a really flexible technique to explore science and it can be used in several domains, from studying certain characteristics of planet surfaces and atmospheres, to analysing weather changes or detecting volcanic eruptions,” Vicinanza added.

The quiet, slow harmonies are a consequence of the dark background and the brighter, higher pitched sounds towards the middle of the piece are created by the sonification of the bright sun disk.

The data sonification technique can be applied in health science to provide scientists with new methods to analyse the occurrence of certain shapes and colours, which is particularly useful in image diagnostics, the team said.

Vicinanza along with Genevieve Williams from the University of Exeter,
will present the piece entitled Mars Soundscapes in the NASA booth at the forthcoming Supercomputing SC18 Conference in Dallas.

It will be presented using both conventional speakers and vibrational transducers so the audience could feel the vibrations with their hands, thus enjoying a first-person experience of a sunrise on Mars.

Opportunity is a robotic rover that has been providing photographic data on Mars for NASA since 2004.

Earlier in 2018, it ceased communications following a dust storm. Scientists hope that it may resume its function later this year.