Monday, February 6, 2023
HomeScientiFixHow NASA translated images of galaxies, blackholes into music

How NASA translated images of galaxies, blackholes into music

ScientiFix, our weekly feature, offers you a summary of the top global science stories of the week, with links to their sources.

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NASA makes music with data from blackholes, galaxies

Scientists have converted astronomical data collected by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and other telescopes into sounds, creating mesmerising musical pieces.

Data sonification maps help us to hear the data instead of only visualising it, without changing the original content.

The data sonification maps were created for three images. The first is the deepest image ever taken in X-rays. The observed field is in the southern hemisphere.

Although at first glance, the image may appear to be a view of stars, almost all different coloured dots are black holes or galaxies. Most of the blckholes are supermassive black holes that reside at the centers of galaxies. In this data sonification, the colours dictate the tones as the bar moves from the bottom of the image to the top.

Colours toward the red end of the rainbow are heard as low tones while colours towards purple are assigned to higher tones.

The wide range of musical frequencies represent the full range of X-ray frequencies collected by the Chandra X-ray Observatory of this region. In the visual colour image, this large frequency range in X-rays had to be compressed to be shown as red, green, and blue for low, medium, and high-energy X-rays.

The stereo position of the sounds can help distinguish the position of the sources from left to right.

The second image that was sonified was the Cat’s Eye nebula.

When a star like the Sun begins to run out of helium to burn, it will blow off huge clouds of gas and dust. This structure is called the nebula.

This image of the Cat’s Eye contains both X-rays from Chandra around the center and visible light data from the Hubble Space Telescope, which show the series of bubbles expelled by the star over time.

To listen to these data, there is a radar-like scan that moves clockwise. Light that is further from the center is heard as higher pitches while brighter light is louder. The X-rays are represented by a harsher sound, while the visible light data sound smoother.

The circular rings create a constant hum, interrupted by a few sounds from spokes in the data.

The third piece of music is made from data from a galaxy known as M51. The sonification begins at the top and moves radially around the image in a clockwise direction. Each wavelength of light in the image obtained from NASA telescopes in space is assigned to a different frequency range. Read more here

Octopus likely have dreams that look like GIFs

Scientists have found that octopuses switch between two major states while sleeping, and may even experience something akin to dreams.

It has been long known that octopuses change colour while they sleep. Now a study has found that these changes in colour are characteristic of two major alternating sleep states: an ‘active sleep’ stage and a ‘quiet sleep’ stage.

Until now, it was thought that only mammals and birds had two sleep states. However, recently some reptiles have also been found to show non-REM and REM sleep.

A REM-like sleep state was also reported in cuttlefish, which led researchers from Brazil to wonder whether they might see evidence of two sleep states in octopuses too.

The team captured video recordings of octopuses in the lab and found that during ‘quiet sleep’ the animals were still and quiet, with pale skin and eye pupils contracted to a slit. During ‘active sleep,’ the animals dynamically changed their skin colour and texture. They also moved their eyes while contracting their suckers and body with muscular twitches.

The cycle would repeat at about 30- to 40-minute intervals.

The findings raise the possibility that octopuses experience something similar to dreaming.

During ‘active sleep’, the octopus experiences a state analogous to REM sleep, which is the state during which humans dream the most. The researchers said that these dreams should be more like small videoclips, or GIFs. Read more about it here

Insect that ‘stole’ plant genome to survive

Scientists from China have found that an insect known as whiteflies incorporated DNA from plants into their own genome in order to be able to degrade common toxins plants use to defend themselves against insects.

The DNA jump that took place millions of years ago allows the whitefly to feed on plants safely. The gene, BtPMaT1, is not found in any other insect species.

Scientists believe that plants probably use BtPMaT1 within their own cells to store their noxious compounds in a harmless form, so the plant doesn’t poison itself. The team revealed that roughly 35 million years ago, whiteflies stole this defense gene, granting the insect the ability to detoxify these compounds for themselves.

The team said that a virus within the plant may have taken up this gene and, after ingestion by a whitefly, the virus must have done something inside the insect causing the gene to get integrated into the whiteflies genome.

Whiteflies have become a major agricultural pest worldwide, as they are able to attack at least 600 different species of plants worldwide.

Using this knowledge, the researchers developed a small molecule that interferes with the whiteflies’ BtPMaT1 gene, making the whiteflies susceptible to the plant’s toxic compounds. Read more about it here

Gene that helps rabbits hop identified

Scientists have identified the gene that is necessary for rabbits, as well as other animals, such as hares and kangaroos to hop.

The team of researchers investigated jumping-related genes using an unusual breed of domesticated rabbit called the sauteur d’Alfort.

Instead of hopping, it has a strange gait where it lifts its back legs and walks on its front paws. By breeding sauteur d’Alfort rabbits with another breed and comparing the offspring’s genomes and jumping abilities, the researchers identified the cause of this developmental defect.

They identified a specific gene mutation which leads to a sharp decrease in the number of neurons in the spinal cord that produce a protein RORB. This change is responsible for the sauteur d’Alfort’s weird walk.

The new study demonstrates that a functional RORB gene is necessary for rabbits and likely other hopping animals to perform their characteristic jumping gait. The findings build on previous studies in mice, showing that animals that lack the RORB gene had a duck-like walk. Additionally, this work advances our understanding of the different ways that animals with backbones move. Read more here

Also read: NASA’s Perseverance rover sends back laser sounds from Mars


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