Why should musicians itching to master a new instrument stick to keys, strings, and drumsticks when they could be shredding on the seven Earth-scale worlds orbiting TRAPPIST-1, an ultracool red dwarf star located 39 light-years away?
Anyone with an internet connection can jam on this tantalizing planetary system, thanks to a new web tool developed by Matt Russo, Daniel Tamayo, and Jason Leung, who are scientists at the University of Toronto's Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics.
GIF: SYSTEM Sounds
The team created the interactive site to encourage "astro-musicians" to explore the unique orbital properties of TRAPPIST-1, which have made it such a perfect launchpad for musical experimentation. The playable system is part of a larger project called SYSTEM Sounds, which "aims to try to convert as many things in space into music as possible," according to Russo.
TRAPPIST-1 has sparked public imagination since it was announced in February that seven Earth-sized worlds are orbiting the star. Three of those are in the "habitable zone" where liquid water—and perhaps life—may be possible.
As if that wasn't enough cosmic cred for the system, TRAPPIST-1 is also naturally prone to harmony because the orbital periods of its planets—meaning the time it takes these worlds to make a circuit around the star—create a "resonant chain." This term describes the relatively neat ratios of orbital periods in systems where planets exert regular gravitational influence on their neighboring worlds.
Two orbital periods of the most distant planet equal to three periods of the sixth planet, four periods of the fifth planet, six periods of the fourth planet, nine periods of the third planet, 15 periods of the second planet, and finally, 24 orbits of the closest planet to the star.
"TRAPPIST has the longest resonant chain of any planetary system that has ever been discovered," Tamayo told me back in May, when the SYSTEM Sounds team first started to experiment with both sonification and visualizations of the star and its planets.
The website matches each planet with piano notes that can be switched on and off. When one planet overtakes an adjacent world, the simulation drops a drumbeat. The tempo is adjustable, and a waveform at the bottom of the page monitors the acoustic resonance of the composition.
So, go on—get schwifty on what the SYSTEM Sounds team calls "the most musical system ever discovered."
Correction: The second GIF was incorrectly attributed to System Sounds. The credit information has been updated.
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