Listening to What an Eclipse Sounds Like

As some people looked up to watch the eclipse, others listened. LightSound devices provided a new way of experiencing the event.
Listening to What an Eclipse Sounds Like

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On April 8, 2024, time appeared to stand still as the moon inched closer to covering the sun entirely. Those standing in the path of totality during the solar eclipse witnessed the rare event unfold.

While the eclipse crossed North America, many looked to the sky (using safety glasses!) to witness the natural spectacle – but others listened to it. Through a process called sonification, which converts light into sound, LightSound devices provided a new way of experiencing the eclipse.

“That image of totality is breathtaking, and so it is visual, but that doesn’t mean that’s the only way you can interpret things or experience them. And for someone without sight, they need a different sense to experience it,” said Allyson Bieryla, an astronomer at Harvard who ran the project, in this article.

Harvard scientists designed a boxy device — a bit larger than a cell phone — that converts light into audible tones. The sounds change based on the intensity of the light, allowing people with blindness or low vision to follow the eclipse’s progress. The device is called a LightSound, and hundreds were available at eclipse-viewing events.

“We mapped the bright light of the sun to a flute sound… and then during totality, it kind of goes down to a low clicking sound,” explained Bieryla. “The device uses a light sensor to take in data — in the case of an eclipse, the data is light intensity. Those numbers, the light intensity values, are then assigned an instrument sound using a MIDI synthesizer board in the device. This allows the tones to change as the moon blocks the sun and Earth gets dark, so people with blindness can interact with the eclipse in ways they couldn’t previously.”

About 900 devices were distributed for the 2024 eclipse, which went to sites in Mexico, the United States, and Canada. Twenty-nine of those devices were sent to Ohio state parks and wildlife areas in the path of totality. As the sun emerged again, that feeling of awe and wonder lingered long after.

There were many ways to experience the eclipse on April 8, and various ways to celebrate during and afterward! Did AV elements play a role in your viewing?

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