Science Byte: on the sound of a star system

Written by Marie Brown

According to the first simulations ran by NASA, the TRAPPSIT-1 star system should not exist. Planets would collide, causing the system to collapse. Yet it would be unrealistic to assume that we discovered these planets in the window of time right before its own destruction. A key component was missing from their calculations, the time taken for each planet to orbit the central star.

The planets orbiting TRAPPSIT-1 form an accurate synchronisation; for every two orbits of the outermost planet, the next planet will complete 3, the next will do 4, then 6, 9, 15, with the innermost orbit completing 23 orbits within this time frame. As if by clockwork all seven planets orbit TRAPPSIT-1 on a low integer ratio of the outer orbit, a phenomenon never before recorded of this length. It is this resonant chain which keeps the system in a state of balance.

In order to communicate this idea the team at SYSTEM Sounds designed a way to visualise the star system through music. By scaling the orbital frequencies of the planets into the human hearing range and playing the note every time a planet completes a full orbit they were able to create a means of listening to the star system.

While most systems would sound discordant, the melody produced by TRAPPSIT-1 is distinct and rhythmic. How poetic, that the same feature that gave the system it’s musical harmony would also be responsible for its survival.

About the author

Marie Brown

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