Paul Lunn: Sonification Techniques for Astronomical Data Exploration

Paul Lunn BSc(Hons) MSc PCPD FHEA MIET
Supervised by Dr A Hunt (Department of Electronics, The University of York)
“The transformation of data relations into
perceived relations in an acoustic signal for
the purposes of facilitating communication or
interpretation” (Kramer et al, 1999).
Everyday Examples
“Ping” of microwave
 Play video games
without sound
 Geiger counter
Scientific applications
ECG analysis
DNA Sequencing
Information Systems
 Helicopter engine
telemetry analysis
 Higgs Boson
The ear is better at detecting rapid or transient
changes than the eye.
 We perceive several sounds simultaneously
 An “eyes free” interface
 We don’t have ear-lids
 Back grounding
 But also…
 Sound can be irritating!
 Hearing impediments/amusia
 (Kramer 1994)
Can sonification can speed up the
analysis/exploration of very large scale data
Labour intensive with visualization methods
The “Data deluge” caused by modern
astronomical observations
An ideal candidate is The Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence - SETI
N = R fp n e fl fi f c L
N = number of advanced technological civilisations
R = number of new stars formed each year
fp = fraction of stars with planets
ne = Number of planets that can support life
fl = fraction of planets which have life
fi = fraction of planets where life is intelligent
fc = fraction of planets where life has developed ability to communicate over stellar distances
L = average lifetime of technological civilisation
(SETI League, 2003)
It is estimated that there could be 100,000,000
intelligent civilisations within the Milky Way
reproduced from NASA (n.d)
Cooper (2010)
Noise + sine
Squiggle + noise
Applying sonification techniques to SETI
radio astronomy data can be an efficient tool
for identifying intelligence patterns
Cooper, P., (2010) “ SETI: the Water Hole” available online at
< > [Accessed 10/06/2012]
Kramer, G. (1994) An Introduction to Auditory Display, in Kramer G. (ed.)
"Auditory Display: Sonification, Audification, and Auditory Interface", AddisonWesley, Reading, MA
Kramer, G., Walker, B., Bonebright, T., Cook, P., Flowers, J., Miner, N., and
Neuhoff, J., (1999 ) “Sonification report: Status of the field and research agenda,”
Tech. Rep., International Community for Auditory Display
NASA, (n.d.), Atmospheric Opacity, image online at <
svg> [Accessed 21/12/10]
SETI League, (2003) “What is the Drake Equation?” available on line at
<> [Accessed 10/06/2012]

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