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The Singing Sun

"The Sun is playing a secret melody, hidden inside itself, that produces a widespread throbbing motion of its surface. The sounds are coursing through the Sun's interior, causing the entire globe, or parts of it, to move in and out, slowly and rhythmically like the regular rise and fall of tides in a bay or of a beating heart." (Kenneth R. Lang)

Hear the Sun Sing | Watch the Sun Boil | Helioseismology | Links

© European Space Agency. All rights reserved.

Classroom activity: Solar Music

Hear the Sun Sing

Have you ever wondered what the Sun would sound like if you could hear it?

Our Sun lies 93,000,000 miles away, surrounded by the vacuum of space. Sound won't travel through space, of course. But with the right instrument, scientists can "hear" pulsations from the Sun.

The entire Sun vibrates from a complex pattern of acoustical waves, much like a bell. If your eyes were sharp enough, you could see a bell's surface jiggle in complex patterns as the waves bounced around within it.

Likewise, astronomers at Stanford University can record acoustical pressure waves in the Sun by carefully tracking movements on the Sun's surface. To do this, they use an instrument called a Michelson Doppler Imager (MDI), mounted on the SOHO spacecraft, circling the Sun 1,000,000 miles from Earth.

The Sun's acoustical waves bounce from one side of the Sun to the other in about two hours, causing the Sun's surface to oscillate, or wiggle up and down. Because these sound waves travel underneath the Sun's surface, they are influenced by conditions inside the Sun. So scientists can use the oscillations to learn more about how the structure of the Sun's interior shapes its surface.

The Sun's sound waves are normally at frequencies too low for the human ear to hear. To be able to hear them, the scientists sped up the waves 42,000 times -- and compressed 40 days of vibrations into a few seconds. What you'll be hearing are just a few dozen of the 10 million resonances echoing inside the Sun.

 Listen To the Sun's Song (AIFF and AU formats)

These solar sounds were generated from 40 days of SOHO/MDI data and processed by A. Kosovichev

 A Collection of Solar Sounds (AIFF and MP3 formats)


Watch the Sun "Boil"

The Sun vibrates up and down, in and out, much like a pot of fudge boiling on the stove. When you make fudge, you can see large bubbles of chocolate covering the pan. And, in each of those big bubbles you can also see a set of tiny bubbles growing and popping with gusto. The Sun is the same. When you look at the following movies, you are viewing the large scale (big bubble) oscillations (the small ones would be too tiny to see). It is these oscillations which generate the sound waves you heard!
Now you can go and make some fudge!

Learning About the Sun through Sound Waves


Scientists can learn much about the Sun's complex interior by tracking and deciphering it's sound waves. But, since we can't "hear" the Sun directly, scientists have to watch for the effects of those sounds waves, the Sun's oscillations, to be able to decipher the sounds. So, like seismologists who study earthquakes, helioseismologists study "quakes" on the Sun. Their job is a bit like figuring out how a piano was put together by listening to it fall down the stairs!

Would you like to learn more about helioseismology?

If you like to play with Slinky® toys, there is a wonderful, hands-on activity to demonstrate the nature of sound waves. Teachers -- You can easily do this in your classroom.


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