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Scientists tell us to tune in to songs of the stars

It isn't only stars of stage and screen who can sing, but also the stars in the night sky, according to scientists at an international astronomy conference.

Astronomers will look at how the Sun and other stars vibrate like enormous musical instruments at an international conference in Sheffield next week (7-11 August, 2006) and will say that listening closely to the stars could be music to our ears.

Leading astronomer and astrophysicist Professor Don Kurtz will discuss how sound waves caused by natural vibrations of stars, produce eerie whistling, drumming, humming or rumbling sounds when their frequencies are raised to within human hearing ranges at an interactive, public lecture at Sheffield Hallam University called 'Songs of the Stars'.

This lecture is one of the highlights of the conference, which has been organised and hosted by the University of Sheffield and brings together experts from across Europe, the USA, Japan and Australia.

Professor Kurtz will demonstrate how Bach would sound if played by the stars, by combining different pitches from different stars to create a whole melody, projected by computer. He will also use helium, cymbals and bottles to recreate stellar sounds.

Professor Kurtz said:

"Stars have natural vibrations that are sound waves, just as musical instruments do. In the case of an instrument such as a horn, the cause of the vibrations is the musician blowing on the horn and buzzing his or her lips at a frequency that matches the natural vibrations of the horn. For the star, the vibrations start by changes in the passage of energy from the nuclear inferno in the heart of the star on its way to the surface, and escape into space.

"The ancient Greeks believed that the planets and stars were embedded in crystal spheres that hummed as they spun around the heavens, making what they called 'the music of the spheres', but it was not until the 1970s that astronomers discovered that the sun and other stars do actually 'sing'. We can't hear the sounds directly, but astronomers can detect them through asteroseismology - looking beneath the surfaces of the stars into their cores. We can see inside the Sun as clearly as you can see a foetus in the womb using ultrasound.

"Understanding the sounds of the stars is important for our understanding of the formation of the solar system and the Earth. We can even monitor dangerous 'active' regions on the far side of the Sun which might later send out coronal mass ejections and create geomagnetic storms, leading to power failure and radio disruption."

'Songs of the Stars' takes place on Tuesday 8 August, 2006 at 7pm, Pennine Lecture Theatre, City Campus, Sheffield Hallam University. Entry is free but by ticket only, available from Pat Brunskill on 0114 2254888 or

Lorna Branton | alfa
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