The ALMA Protostellar Interferometric Line Survey (PILS)

Exploring the origin of complex organic molecules in star forming regions

How do listeners experience the PILS observations from a musical perspective?


This work led by Vera Matenaar for her Bachelor Thesis in Innovative Music Technologies at TRIAGON Academy Ismaning aims at translating sounds of the molecular universe into music. The spectra from the Protostellar Interferometric Line survey (PILS) contain more than 10,000 molecular line transitions from more than 100 molecules. The frequencies of these molecular lines can be translated into audible sounds of different instruments.

First, the individual frequencies and intensities corresponding to the molecular transitions were studied to determine to what extent they could be brought into a ratio that represents for example the concert pitch of a piano at 440 Hz, otherwise known as a tuning standard for the musical note of A above middle C. A digital audio workstation was used to record the tones of various instruments within the range of an octave. After extraction of the multiple overtones for each instrument, the frequencies and intensities of the interstellar spectrum were compared by a mathematical approximation. These calculations took into account the individual frequencies and intensities of all molecular lines and assigned tones and instruments for different molecules. These assigned tones were used to create a film musical orchestral composition that could form the basis for harmonic sounds of a star forming region by creative composition.

You can listen to the composition below or read a blog-post about it at the ESO Blog.



This work was completed with the collaboration and support of Elena Bülow, Hannah Calcutt, Catarina Fernandes, Jes Jørgensen, Georg Matenaar, David Merkl, Giulia Perotti, Brittney Scifres, Andre Schmidt.