Can we hear the sun?
November 11, 2008 1:47 PM   Subscribe

A question from my five year old: What noise does the sun make?

Ahh, the curiosity of small minds.

Assuming the sun were not in the near-vacuum of space, what sort of a sound would it make? Would it be in the range of our hearing, and if so, from how far away could you hear it? Could it be heard from say, Mercury? Venus?
posted by Miss Otis' Egrets to Science & Nature (22 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
 
Like this: http://solar-center.stanford.edu/singing/
posted by zamboni at 1:53 PM on November 11, 2008 [3 favorites]


Since the sun is surrounded by the vacuum of space, and sound requires a medium to travel through, I think the answer would be "none". If you were on the surface of the sun, that might be a different story (I imagine maybe it would be *KAAWWWOWOOOOOOSHHHHH*). But I could be wrong.
posted by tybeet at 1:54 PM on November 11, 2008


Tune in with a radio. Sounds like a waterfall, to me.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:54 PM on November 11, 2008 [2 favorites]


It would sound a lot like a really big fire. It would be a kind of low-frequency rushing sound.

And yeah, you'd be able to hear it from here.
posted by Class Goat at 1:54 PM on November 11, 2008


Tybeet, please note from the question: "Assuming the sun were not in the near-vacuum of space..."
posted by Class Goat at 1:55 PM on November 11, 2008


"Scientists have recorded the sound of three stars similar to our Sun using France's Corot space telescope"
posted by milkrate at 1:56 PM on November 11, 2008 [2 favorites]


The Sun has a plasma atmosphere, called the corona, which could function as a medium for the transmission of sound. Unfortunately for potential listeners, the temperature is in the millions of degrees (both Fahrenheit and Celsius).

As to what it would sound like - presumably something along the lines of a forest fire with frequent booming punctuations from solar flares and lesser plasma eruptions.
posted by Ryvar at 1:56 PM on November 11, 2008


Yeah, from the article mentioned above "Scientists can learn much about the Sun's complex interior by tracking and deciphering it's sound waves. But, since we can't "hear" the Sun directly, scientists have to watch for the effects of those sounds waves, the Sun's oscillations, to be able to decipher the sounds." So we can watch and reproduce the sound that its rhythms make, but we cannot directly perceive it (nor can anyone on Venus or Mercury).

Still, it does make a sound, and if I were a child that's what I'd want to hear. The article has a neat way of explaining its natural, magical, geometric sound which is probably what I'd want to think about if I were young, if you can figure out a way of explaining it in simpler terms.
posted by tybeet at 1:57 PM on November 11, 2008


This is a tough one to even guestimate for a lot of reasons, but you five year old (or inner five year old) might be amused by this. I'll leave it to you to explain Bach, and computer modeling of atmospheric phenomenon to a five year old.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 2:22 PM on November 11, 2008


Sound is vibration transmitted through a solid, liquid, or gas. The sun does not make sound because it's not contained in these media. If we are supposing that it were suddenly contained in one of these states of matter, it would heat the medium up to the point that it would cook the listener. So in a sense the sound that the sun makes is the sound of imminent doom.
posted by mullingitover at 3:10 PM on November 11, 2008


And then there's this. (Not entirely responsive to the question, but your young one might enjoy it.)

The sun is a mass of incandescent gas
A gigantic nuclear furnace
Where hydrogen is built into helium
At a temperature of millions of degrees...

posted by ottereroticist at 3:17 PM on November 11, 2008 [2 favorites]


Assuming the sun were not in the near-vacuum of space, what sort of a sound would it make?

It would make the loudest sound anybody has ever heard, as it went through the process of converting the non-vacuum around it back to vacuum again by (a) heating parts of it so violently that they reached the Sun's escape velocity and left the vicinity and (b) gravitationally attracting other parts of it so violently that it fell right into the Sun and got burnt in that star's nuclear furnace. The sound would be so loud that it would not be possible to classify what it sounds like, because there simply isn't anything else that could sound that loud.

I have no maths to back this up, but I suspect that the sounds of the effects the Sun would induce in any surrounding medium would be louder than those originating within the present envelope of what we consider to be the Sun.

Show your kid how big the volume of the Earth is compared to the volume of the storm that flattened New Orleans. Now show your kid how big the Sun is compared to the whole Earth. Now get your kid to imagine the sound of that storm, scaled up by both those factors. Should be near enough.
posted by flabdablet at 3:32 PM on November 11, 2008 [4 favorites]


The Sun warms the Earth and makes life possible.

The sound of the Sun is the sound of everything ever heard by human ears.
posted by wfrgms at 3:36 PM on November 11, 2008 [4 favorites]


Q: What noise does the sun make?

A: ROAR!
posted by DarlingBri at 3:48 PM on November 11, 2008 [4 favorites]


The seismic activity of the sun would probably sound like the seismic activity of the earth, though the pitch would be in a different place.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 4:27 PM on November 11, 2008


To follow on from fantabulous timewaster, it looks like helioseismology typically deals with frequencies that are deep in the infrasound range. Which isn't terribly surprising for something so big I guess.
posted by edd at 4:38 PM on November 11, 2008


Q: What noise does the sun make?

A: It's very hot, so I imagine it would be something along the lines of FFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU-

Seriously though, when you think about how much action is going on up there, I doubt it would sound very much like a traditional fire, forest or otherwise. It would be a continual deafening roar (think the noise you get in your ears when you are deep underwater, holding your breath, amplified by a trillion), interspersed with nuclear explosions every couple of milliseconds.
posted by turgid dahlia at 5:21 PM on November 11, 2008


Perhaps the same sound as that tree in the forest when no one's around to hear it? (Though a five year old may not appreciate that kind of answer.)
posted by IndigoJones at 6:28 PM on November 11, 2008


Tune in with a radio.

Or even build your own radio to listen with.
posted by neuron at 8:43 PM on November 11, 2008


I think a good answer for your kid is that it would sound a lot like a big jet engine.
posted by Class Goat at 10:19 PM on November 11, 2008


Wait, where? In the sun? Or just outside the surface? If we had a listening device that could pick up sounds, I'm sure something could be picked up before you reached the actual surface of the sun. A couple hundred miles from the surface perhaps? In the interior, where all the action is happening, that device might pick up sounds akin to the loudest jet engine ever. Or something. It's the science question equivalent of trying to look at the back of your head--it's impossible and will drive you mad just thinking about it. Our entire concept of sound is based on organs (ears) that pick up specific vibrations in a specific medium (air). Take away all of those givens and "sound" doesn't really mean what we think it means.

Your kid is obviously a genius already to ask this question. Tell him that if he figures out the answer when he's a grownup, he'll become really, really rich.
posted by zardoz at 10:43 PM on November 11, 2008


Of course she's a genius, zardoz. Why, just yesterday she learnt to ride a bike! Seriously though, this is the latest in a long line of fun questions ranging from easy (how does a baby get in the woman's tummy?) to more complex (how was the sky made? Why do we have countries?).
This one, however, I couldn't answer off the top of my head. (Although my first thought was something similar to DarlingBri's.) I'm quite pleased to learn that indeed the sun does have a sound.
posted by Miss Otis' Egrets at 1:28 PM on November 12, 2008


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