Downloadable: ‘music’ from the stars

White dwarf cocoon

From World Science:

Now downloadable: “music” of the stars

Aug. 13, 2006

Courtesy Sheffield Hallam University and World Science staff

Ancient Greeks thought planets and stars were embedded in vast crystal spheres that hummed as they spun around the heavens, giving off what the ancients called “the music of the spheres.”

It was a beautiful idea, and wrong.

But not totally wrong. There are no crystal spheres; but as astronomers found out in the 1970s, “the sun and other stars do actually ‘sing,’” said astronomer Donald Kurtz of The University of Central Lancashire in Preston, U.K.

The eerie tones are now downloadable:

Downloadable star sounds

» HR3831, discovered by Kurtz, a new class of star with a powerful magnetic field. It pulses every 11.7 minutes.

» Xi-hydrae, an old star in the constellation Hydra. It is 130 light years away and 60 times brighter than the Sun. Its sounds, which have been featured in club music in Belgium, are reminiscent of African drumming.

» A “white dwarf” or dead star 50 light years away, also in Centaurus

» The first piece of music composed for stellar instruments: the slowly-building Stellar Music No. 1 by Jenõ Keuler and Zoltán Kolláth.

5 thoughts on “Downloadable: ‘music’ from the stars

  1. Astronomy: On the Moons of Pluto.
    Two small moons of Pluto, Nix and Hydra, were discovered in 2005
    in images taken with the Hubble Space Telescope. Both travel
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  3. Published online: 14 February 2007; | doi:10.1038/news070212-9
    Scientific treasure found in junk pit
    Archaeological dig reveals high-tech medieval instrument.

    Jo Marchant

    That’s not junk: this is only the 8th astrolabe quadrant ever found.
    Canterbury Archaeological Trust Ltd
    When the owners of a restaurant in the historic British city of Canterbury dug the foundations for an extension to their period property, they may have hoped to find an old coin or two. Instead, they unearthed a rare scientific instrument.

    Nestled among shards of pottery in a fourteenth-century rubbish pit, archaeologists watching over the dig spotted an astrolabe quadrant – a complex astronomical calculator for telling the time and calculating latitude.

    Such devices are extremely rare — it is only the eighth such instrument ever to be discovered. And finding it in what was probably a rubbish dump is even more unusual.

    The building that houses the restaurant dates back to the sixteenth century, so when work on the extension began in 2005, Andrew Linklater of the Canterbury Archaeological Trust was assigned to watch over it — just in case.

    As the foundations were dug, the builders uncovered the remains of a medieval building. By the back wall was a pit containing shards of pottery dating to 1375-1425, which Linklater speculates might have been a rubbish pit. Among the fragments, he picked out a dirty brass plate in the shape of a quarter circle.

    Unable to identify the plate, he took it to the British Museum. “They held their hands up and went ‘wow’,” he recalls. Experts there identified it as an incredibly rare astrolabe quadrant, and suggested sending it to Elly Dekker, a Dutch independent scholar with expertise in historical astronomical instruments, for full analysis.

    Eye on the sky

    Dekker’s study is now complete, and she believes that the find dates to around 1388.

    The quadrant has a series of curves and markings engraved on it. Along one edge of the instrument are two sighting holes, which the user would have lined up with the Sun. An attached plumb bob (now missing) would have hung down vertically, aligning with the engraved calibrations and allowing the user to tell the time of day. It could also be used to determine the time of sunrise and sunset, or to work out the latitude.

    Dekker says that the quadrant is quite recent compared with the few others that are known. But the Canterbury version can only be used during the day, unlike the other instruments that were designed to line up with the stars as well as the Sun. It may be that its designers realized it was too difficult to fit so much information onto a small instrument, and so created a simplified, stripped down version.

    Brass in pocket

    Dekker says the object would have been very expensive in its time, and that it is extremely rare to find such a valuable object buried in the earth – most pieces such as this get passed down through the generations and are eventually rediscovered in someone’s attic or private collection. “We don’t find instruments of this type in archaeological sites,” she says.

    Click here to find out more!
    Linklater adds that he is more used to digging up coins or buckles, and is mystified by how the quadrant ended up in the pit. “It would have been exceptionally highly prized; it was the peak of the technology of the day,” he says. “It was the sort of thing you had to have if you wanted to be ahead of everything in science. But it must have been discarded.”

    He speculates that the owner might have been a member of the Church, which was interested in science. And this person may have been travelling, perhaps even on a pilgrimage. Astrolabe quadrants were the ‘pocket’ version of a more common, circular instrument called an astrolabe. Back in the fourteenth century, the street where the restaurant stands was lined with inns for pilgrims coming to Canterbury.

    The quadrant is being sold by London auctioneers Bonhams on 21 March, and is predicted to net the owners between £60,000 (US$118,000) and £100,000. The extension to the restaurant is now complete, and has been named the Quadrant Bar.

    Linklater says archaeologists generally frown on the selling of artefacts, as they often then don’t end up in a museum. But he’s happy just to have discovered it. “To find something as rare as this is incredibly exciting,” he says. “It’s certainly the most valuable thing I’ve ever found.”


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