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A musical duet from the edge of our solar system

​Domenico Vicinanza presenting at SC 13 in Denver, Colorado. Image courtesy GÉANT.

Since being launched in 1977, NASA's Voyager 1 and 2 probes have been on an epic journey to the very edge of our solar system. Now, Domenico Vicinanza has harnessed the power of grid computing to create an uptempo piece of classical music from the data collected by the probes.

Vicinanza is network services product manager at GÉANT, the pan-European research and education network, which has over 50 million users at 10,000 institutions across the continent. As a trained musician, Vicinanza also takes the role of arts and humanities manager at GÉANT. He has previously created music using data from the Voyager 1 probe, CERN's Large Hadron Collider, brain scans, and even volcanoes!

To compose the Voyager duet, Vicinanza first selected 320,000 measurements from each probe, at one hour intervals. Then, following some 'conversion' of the data, he was able to use the European Grid Infrastructure (EGI) to create the duet live at the NASA booth at SC13 in Denver, Colarado, US, with GÉANT's superfast network being used to transfer data to/from NASA.

Take a listen for yourself! Music courtesy GÉANT/Domenico Vicinanza.

"I used different groups of instruments and different sound textures to represent the two spacecrafts, synchronising the measurements taken at the same time," explains Vicinanza. "I wanted to compose a musical piece celebrating the Voyager 1 and 2 together, so used the same measurements (proton counts from the cosmic ray detector over the last 37 years) from both spacecrafts, at the exactly same point of time, but at several billions of kilometers of distance one from the other."

Of course, such 'data sonification' isn't just about producing interesting music, or even communicating or educating people about science. It can also have important uses in a wide variety of research fields: "Analysing the melody is exactly the same as looking at data in a spreadsheet, but using the ear," says Vicinanza." The information content is exactly the same: represented by regularities, patterns, changes, trends and peaks. In fact, data sonification makes it possible to get information about long-range regularities and correlations that are hard to spot just by inspection."

- Andrew Purcell

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