Space scientists, spoken word artists and filmmakers teamed up to create a new short film, ‘Beyond Visible Noise’, that will launch at the National Astronomy Meeting on Tuesday 20 July. Dr Martin Archer of Imperial College London will describe how scientists and poets worked together to take the incredibly weak sound waves found in space and convert them to the audible content that features in the film.
The space between the planets is more rarified than any terrestrial near-vacuum. But it is filled with plasmas - gases of electrically charged particles that generate and interact with electromagnetic fields. Sound waves travel through this medium, but they are far weaker than anything found on Earth, and have frequencies far below the audible range.
Archer and his team converted the routine satellite recordings of these ‘space sounds’ into audible content, simply by dramatically amplifying the data and speeding up its playback. These sounds now feature as the basis of ‘Beyond Visible Noise’.
The film is the product of the Experimental Words project, which paired some of the UK’s most exciting spoken word artists with leading scientists – challenging them to co-create performance poetry that explores their worlds. Dr Archer, a Stephen Hawking Fellow at Imperial College London, teamed up with UK Entertainment Best Poet 2017 awardee Shareefa Energy to create a piece that explores sound, space, and the wonder of science.
‘Beyond Visible Noise’ came about from numerous conversations between Martin and Shareefa on many disparate areas that they were able to bring together into a cohesive narrative. One key jumping off point was Martin’s scientific research into these sounds present around our planet and how they affect our everyday lives.
Discussions about this work prompted Shareefa to explore the limits of humans’ senses and the power of sound as both a physical and psychological force - one which can be used nefariously, but can also bring about awe. The final talking point that ended up in the track was around attempts at universal languages and communication, like those on the plaques found on the Pioneer spacecraft that left the solar system in the 1980s and 1990s.
By being re-exposed to physics and maths, subjects she was put off from at school, Shareefa wondered how many fail to appreciate the richness they can bring in explaining both the familiar and wildly abstract wonders of our universe, leaving the poem on a hopeful end point. Through the brainstorming, writing, and recording processes, ‘Beyond Visible Noise’ became a true sonic journey!
Their track was subsequently picked by Forbes 30-Under-30 and BAFTA Rocliffe Award winning filmmaker Peter Fellows, co-writer of ‘The Death of Stalin’, to be turned into a music-video style short-film for an epic exploration of the creative power of the performing arts and science. The film depicts an astronaut, returned from space travel, struggling with the trauma of having lost a fellow crewmember and adjusting to life back on Earth. Visually it highlights the busy world we all live in, the vastness of the space, and the calming beauty of nature.
Archer says about the project: “Beyond Visible Noise exemplifies the power of sound. So often astronomers rely on visually arresting imagery from their telescopes to communicate and enthuse the public. But space scientists like me that study the invisible plasmas in our solar system can’t do that. By using real sounds of space, the new film shows how a lack of visual material does not need to be a challenge and can in fact be a creative way of engaging with the universe around us.”
The short film "Beyond Visible Noise" on YouTube.
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Watch Beyond Visible Noise on YouTube
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About the National Astronomy Meeting
The Royal Astronomical Society National Astronomy Meeting (NAM 2021) will take place online from 19 - 23 July 2021. Bringing together around 850 astronomers and space scientists, the conference is the largest annual professional astronomy and space science event in the UK, and sees leading researchers from around the world presenting their latest work.
NAM 2021 incorporates the annual meetings of the Magnetosphere Ionosphere Solar-Terrestrial (MIST) and UK Solar Physics (UKSP) groups. The conference is principally sponsored by the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS), the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) and the University of Bath.
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About the Royal Astronomical Society
The Royal Astronomical Society (RAS), founded in 1820, encourages and promotes the study of astronomy, solar-system science, geophysics and closely related branches of science. The RAS organises scientific meetings, publishes international research and review journals, recognizes outstanding achievements by the award of medals and prizes, maintains an extensive library, supports education through grants and outreach activities and represents UK astronomy nationally and internationally. Its more than 4,000 members (Fellows), a third based overseas, include scientific researchers in universities, observatories and laboratories as well as historians of astronomy and others.
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The Science and Technology Facilities Council is part of UK Research and Innovation – the UK body which works in partnership with universities, research organisations, businesses, charities, and government to create the best possible environment for research and innovation to flourish. STFC funds and supports research in particle and nuclear physics, astronomy, gravitational research and astrophysics, and space science and also operates a network of five national laboratories as well as supporting UK research at a number of international research facilities including CERN, FERMILAB and the ESO telescopes in Chile. STFC is keeping the UK at the forefront of international science and has a broad science portfolio and works with the academic and industrial communities to share its expertise in materials science, space and ground-based astronomy technologies, laser science, microelectronics, wafer scale manufacturing, particle and nuclear physics, alternative energy production, radio communications and radar.
STFC's Astronomy and Space Science programme provides support for a wide range of facilities, research groups and individuals in order to investigate some of the highest priority questions in astrophysics, cosmology and solar system science. STFC's astronomy and space science programme is delivered through grant funding for research activities, and also through support of technical activities at STFC's UK Astronomy Technology Centre and RAL Space at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. STFC also supports UK astronomy through the international European Southern Observatory.
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About the University of Bath
The University of Bath is one of the UK's leading universities both in terms of research and our reputation for excellence in teaching, learning and graduate prospects.
The University is rated Gold in the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), the Government’s assessment of teaching quality in universities, meaning its teaching is of the highest quality in the UK.
In the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014 research assessment 87 per cent of our research was defined as ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’. From developing fuel efficient cars of the future, to identifying infectious diseases more quickly, or working to improve the lives of female farmers in West Africa, research from Bath is making a difference around the world. Find out more
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