Is There Sound in Space?

Is it possible to hear sounds in space? The short answer is no . . . mostly! ?

A scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey, one the few science fiction movies to depict total silence in its scenes in space, and also one of Mr. Yuck’s favorite movies!

In almost every science fiction movies or TV show, you hear spaceships speeding through space or shooting laser beams. That is entertaining, but sound doesn’t work this way in real life. Sound doesn’t travel in a vacuum, and much of space is a vacuum, so that should be an easy answer.

But . . . to be completely correct, not all of space is a vacuum. It’s full of clouds of gas and dust that are the remains of old stars or the beginnings of new ones. And sometimes that gas is dense enough to carry sound waves, just not sound perceptible to humans.

In 2003, NASA’s Chandra x-ray telescope detected ripples in the gas cloud in the Perseus Cluster and determined that they were sound waves from a nearby black hole. It made one droning note, deeper than we could ever hear. The note is a B-flat, 57 octaves below middle C, which is roughly a million billion times lower than the lowest frequency of sound we can hear.

So while you absolutely can’t hear sound in the vacuum of space, there may be a whole symphony of sounds in distant gas clouds that perhaps only alien ears could ever hear. Those sound waves won’t ever travel to us, though, because sound still can’t travel in a vacuum!