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Sonification and sound design for astronomy research, education and public engagement


Over the past ten years there has been a large increase in the number of projects using sound to represent astronomical data and concepts. Motivation for these projects includes the potential to enhance scientific discovery within complex datasets, by utilizing the inherent multidimensionality of sound and the ability of our hearing to filter signals from noise. Other motivations include creating engaging multisensory resources, for education and public engagement, and making astronomy more accessible to people who are blind or have low vision, promoting their participation in science and related careers. We describe potential benefits of sound within these contexts and provide an overview of the nearly 100 sound-based astronomy projects that we have identified. We discuss current limitations and challenges of the approaches taken. Finally, we suggest future directions to help realize the full potential of sound-based techniques in general and to widen their application within the astronomy community.

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Fig. 1: Example of a simulated signal embedded in a dataset from the LIGO gravitational wave detector, plotted as gravitational wave strain versus time.
Fig. 2: Evolution in the number of sonification projects of space science and astronomical data on the basis of project start date.

Image by Yuan Hua. Sonification by Jeff Hannam.

Fig. 3: Summary of goals, users and media used by the 98 astronomy sonification applications reported in the Data Sonification Archive as of December 2021.


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We are grateful to the Lorentz Centre for supporting the organization of the Audible Universe workshop in September 2021 and to the workshop participants for valuable and insightful discussions. We also thank members of the Sonification World Chat and K. Perkins, for helping us collate information about current astronomy sonification and sound design projects. We thank I. Harry, C. McIsaac and S. Fairhurst for providing information about their Black Hole Hunter project and the possibility to include the data in Fig. 1. We are grateful to Y. Hua and P. Ciuccarelli for their help in creating Figs. 2 and 3. We are grateful to Jeff Hannam for his help in creating the sonification of Fig. 2.

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A.Z. and C.M.H. led the writing and the researching of current astronomy sonification and sound design projects, S.L. led the preparation of Figs. 2 and 3 and all co-authors participated in the discussion of the content and provided comments on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to A. Zanella or C. M. Harrison.

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Zanella, A., Harrison, C.M., Lenzi, S. et al. Sonification and sound design for astronomy research, education and public engagement. Nat Astron 6, 1241–1248 (2022).

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