Manchester Science Festival 2022’s theme is ‘Future Human’. NOVARS research institute for innovation in sound, space and interactive art from the University of Manchester are joining the festival’s Family Zone to showcase some of their cutting edge work exploring the limits of human/computer interaction in art. As part of NOVARS’ installation, Cameron Naylor is exhibiting his work Exoplanets, which explores how life might look and sound on distant planets.
In 1969 we first put man on the moon, and ever since then, shooting for the stars has gone from an adage to an aim. It is implicit that in order to sustain ourselves as a species, we must look to the skies for future homes. So where do we begin?
In exoplanets we find our answer. Exoplanets are any planets that exist outside of our solar system, whether we have seen them for ourselves, or not . Over the past few decades, scientists have been eager to research and understand what these planets are made of, and in this namesake installation at Manchester Science Festival, visitors are invited to think more about how these planets are made, and what they look and sound like.
The reason we are so interested in discovering exoplanets is so that one day we may find a new and habitable world to sustain human life. So far, over 5,000 of these exoplanets have been discovered and classified by NASA in the ongoing search for a place future humans may call home.
Each planet discovered is intensely analysed, labelled and then sorted into an exoplanet database. There are many ways scientists refer to what these planets are made of, and what you might find if you were to go. By comparing distant planets to the ones closer to home, we can get a good feel for what lies outside of the Milky Way.
Size, for example, can range from ‘dwarf’ to ‘giant’. While we can think of these in relation to the planets in our system (the smallest being Pluto and the biggest being Jupiter) the reality is that planets outside of our solar system can be much, much bigger. For example ROXs 42Bb, discovered in 2013, has a radius 2.5 times that of Jupiter, earning it the nickname of super-Jupiter.
Other interesting properties of exoplanets are referred to in this way; labels such as hot-Jupiter, mini-Neptune or super-Earth give researchers a good idea for what the planet is made of. However, the study of exoplanets extends further than our observed universe, with scientists predicting what we might find in the future, using what we already know about the planets we’ve found.
With alien planets come alien landscapes. While we are used to beaches, mountains and a breathable atmosphere, there exist planets unlike anything we have ever experienced. For example, if you were to visit Neptune and Uranus, you may see an icy landscape; however, 100 light years away there exists TOI-1452 b, a planet covered entirely in what seems to be water. If you are after something a bit hotter, then look no further than Kepler-78b, a planet that’s surface is so hot that it is covered entirely in molten lava.
The Exoplanets installation at Manchester Science Festival uses the databases and information collected by scientists, and invites visitors to experiment for themselves, and think about what these planets may look and sound like, by creating new planets from scratch.
The feel of each planet type is determined by these online databases, with the screen showing representations of what you may expect to see and hear upon arrival. Using 3D modelling and sound synthesis, each planet has a unique sound and feel based on its real life physicality. Whether it is the cricket chirps of an Earth-like planet, the bubbling magma of a lava planet or the metallic sounds of the brown dwarf, each world is unique and waiting to be explored.
Once familiar with the different types of exoplanets, visitors are free to take it a step further and create their own solar system in ‘Universe Mode’. With up to six exoplanets available, users can mix and match different planet types, creating new and unique combinations of planets to create a solar symphony that is completely out of this world.
For the musically minded, the ‘Sequencer’ and ‘Multi’ modes offer a whole new level of control. Visitors are invited to take their solar system to the next level with options to create interesting rhythms, as well as an FM mode, whereby users can customise the sound of planets even further, thinking up new and unique sounds for these distant planets.
By creating new solar systems, Exoplanets invites visitors to think about what life in the stars might be like, and what life on other planets will look and sound like for humans of the future.