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UK researchers dial in to the sound of Mars

Published: 17 November 2020 at 16:00


NASA releases ringtones featuring melodies that are ‘out of this world’

Researchers from the UK have used NASA data to create new mobile phone ringtones that are quite literally out of this world.

Dr Domenico Vicinanza, of Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), and Dr Genevieve Williams, of the University of Exeter, carried out the project to celebrate NASA’s Pleiades supercomputer and its role in the successful Mars InSight mission.

The ringtones and text message alert sounds – produced using a process called data sonification – have been made available by NASA as free downloads as part of the SC20 conference, which is taking place this week. 

Pleiades, one of the most powerful computers in the world, is used by NASA to forecast the weather on Mars.  The academics used an imaging tracking system to study the movement of cloud formations predicted by Pleiades, and then filtered this data to extract patterns.

They then mapped these patterns to musical intervals, creating the melodies that have been brought to life by professional flutist Dr Alyssa Schwartz, of Fairmont State University in the United States. Short extracts have been used to produce the ringtones, while the text alert melodies are based on the central processing unit capacity of Pleiades.

Dr Domenico Vicinanza, of Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) and GEANT, said:

“With the growing interest in Mars exploration, there is a pressing need to study and predict the planet’s weather, and that is what the incredible Pleiades supercomputer is able to do.

“We’ve used real scientific data to create real music, so that Alyssa is, in effect, playing the shape of Mars clouds in motion, as predicted by the supercomputer.

“I’m particularly proud of this project because the extraction and modelling techniques we’ve used with the NASA data are the same that we use in our own academic research and in my teaching on the MSc Data Science course at ARU.

“The model allows data scientists to study complicated, nonlinear data and extract regularities, or patterns, in that data.  It has a variety of practical uses including studying large quantities of health data, economic forecasting and, of course, making music!”

Dr Alyssa Schwartz added:
“Performing music composed from data taken from Mars was a unique experience.

“This is the first time I have ever recorded a ringtone, or anything for NASA, but I hope it won’t be the last.”

NASA has made the free downloads, and a short video about the project, available at https://www.nas.nasa.gov/SC20/digitalswag.html#ringtones


Music from Mars from NASA Supercomputing on Vimeo.