Scientists Convert Trappist-1 Planetary System Into Celestial Synth Music

NASA/JPL-Caltech / NASA/JPL-Caltech

Never before has the term “music of the spheres” been used so literally. Scientists have converted data from the Trappist-1 planetary system into almost-danceable synth music that may, in turn, help scientists understand how the strange system works.

The TRAPPIST Sounds project is at the center of a pretty sweet Venn diagram. On one side is astrophysicist Daniel Tamayo of the University of Toronto. On the other is musician Andrew Santaguida. And between them is musician/astrophysicist Matt Russo, who just so happens to be Santaguida’s bandmate and Tomayo’s office neighbor.

The announcement of Trappist-1’s discovery in February 2017 set off waves of excitement, and not just among scientists. The system’s seven planets are arrayed around a cool central star, and at least some exist in that most unlikely of spaces: a habitable zone. (The system's discoverers originally published that all seven could potentially harbor liquid water [PDF].) Playing into mounting public daydreams of exiting this planet for a better world, NASA even produced WPA-style Trappist-1 travel posters.

We won’t actually be packing for the stars any time soon, of course, but Trappist-1 does still represent an immense discovery, one we’ll be exploring from Earth for a long time.

Tamayo’s research involves investigating the paths of Trappist-1’s planets as they trace invisible rings around their star. Astronomers like Tamayo have converted each planet’s approximate location and movements into data. Russo and Santaguida converted that data into music and imagery.

Experimental though its orbits may sound to us, the Trappist-1 system is apparently a better composer than most of its peers. Russo tried music-ifying another seven-planeted-star, Kepler-90, with ear-splitting results. “It’s just horrendous,” he told The New York Times. “It’s very uncomfortable to listen to.”

Trappist’s clanging, banging notation could be as good as it gets. “I think Trappist is the most musical system we’ll ever discover,” Russo said. “I hope I’m wrong.”

[h/t New York Times]