The Universe Literally Runs on Jazz

The Universe Literally Runs on Jazz

If you needed more proof that jazz is life, a Massachusetts astronomer has something for you. Mark Heyer, who studies galactic gases and collects three-dimensional measurements of clouds of gas in the Milky Way, uses sound waves to better visualize the three-dimensional clouds on his two-dimensional computer screen. He developed the technique to help better understand the data he was collecting, but, like any artist at heart, soon decided to “scale up” and create a musical score based on the sounds of atomic, molecular, and ionized gasses found in our galaxy.

The result? The Milky Way Blues.

Yep. When you assign saxophone tones to ionized gas, bass tones to atomic gas, and piano and wood blocks to molecular gases, you get a galactic jazz ensemble that is eternally unique yet surprisingly consistent as the universe expands and the gases in the Milky Way stream toward and away from Earth at various rates of speed. Those moving toward Earth are higher notes; while lower notes indicate gases moving away. Of course, the longer the note, the greater the intensity of the gas.

Heyer did not stop with the Milky Way, either. He now creates a monthly jazz-space mashup that includes scores for Martian winds on Mars, black holes, and “good vibrations” from the sun. In March 2018, he also noted that the Inner Solar System sounds a bit like Radiohead, but he usually sticks to his jazz ensemble roots.

Heyer himself is not a musician, although he does have some experience with the dulcimer. He really created this technique so he could better visualize how the various components of our galaxy relate to each other and to our planet. “Even astronomers don’t really understand the vastness of space,” Heyer admitted, calling the cosmos conceptually “mind-boggling.” In his bio on the University of Massachusetts website, Heyer emphasized:

“I’ve been true to the data. I haven’t massaged it to make it sound nice, but by turning what we actually observe with a radio telescope into a musical scale it gives us familiar tones that sound surprisingly like music with which we’re familiar.”

Heyer also noted that a two-minute “composition” can take multiple months to assemble. Again, just like jazz.