Music of the Sun and Stars

Project aims:

This project promoted high-impact, internationally leading science that uses the “music of the stars”, the fields of helioseismology and asteroseismology, to study the structure and evolution of the Sun and stars (including stars hosting exoplanets) by observation of their natural oscillations. We wanted to inspire and educate schoolchildren (11+) and the general public through the use of a novel combination of science and art. The prime aim was to convey a sense of wonder, the take-home messages being “stars ring just like musical instruments”, and that science furthering our understanding of the universe follows from our observations of stars. This project was supported by an IOP public engagement grant.

Summary of activity:

The project combines a four-channel sound installation, “5-minute oscillations of the Sun”, created from actual helioseismic data by the sound artist Caroline Devine, with animated educational material explaining the origins, observations and use of data on oscillations of the Sun. The installation is hosted at the “Thinktank” Birmingham Science Museum, in the area where guests wait prior to entering the planetarium shows. Some of the slides in the animation contain Quick Response (QR) codes, linking to a “landing” webpage that contains more information on the science, with opportunities to look at real, live data being collected on oscillations of the Sun by the Birmingham Solar-Oscillations Network (BiSON). There is also a link to our research group’s outreach pages, including our Google+ page; and to Caroline Devine’s pages (including information on her being shortlisted for the British Composer Awards 2013, for the composition used in this installation).

Evaluation approach:

We evaluated the project against its aims and objectives through three methods:

­- Questionnaires issued to guests at Thinktank;

­- Informal discussions with guests at Thinktank; and

­- Statistics on visits to the webpage associated with the installation.

What went well:

Over 90% of our respondents returned “agreed” or “strongly agreed” responses to our questionnaires. The best-scoring question asked whether the activity made the visitors want to find out more. Written/commented responses were dominated by returns indicating surprise, interest and enthusiasm with the concept that the Sun rings like a musical instrument. Encouragingly, there was no significant difference in returns based on the age of the respondents, indicating that we had success in conveying our main message to children (further reinforced by some of the written comments given by children).

What was learned:

Not to underestimate the appetite of the public for detail and information. Our feedback indicated that we could have included more information in the animated presentation of the science; moreover, our animation, which initially was set to run on a 4-minute loop, could have run for longer including more background on the science.

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About this project


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Project type:

Started (approximately):

October 2013

Ended: (approximately)

In 2014 (TBD)

Tags for this project:

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About the contributor

William Chaplin
School of Physics and Astronomy, University of Birmingham

I am a Professor of Astrophysics, and use the technique of helioseismology and asteroseismology to study the Sun and stars by detecting their natural "music" or resonances.…

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