How loud would the Sun be?

  • Sound can't travel through outer space. But if it could, how loud would the Sun be? Would the sound be dangerous to life on Earth, or would we barely hear it from this distance?


    Nice question. Something I would never have wondered

    Sound can travel through outer space.

    @RobJeffries But not at frequencies that make us deaf.

    And indeed nothing is producing sounds at frequencies we can hear.

    Wow, nice question! I remember having dreams where I could hear the Sun.

    YES< I agree: a VERY interesting quesation !!!

    here's a related "interesting question" --- in nuclear physics, the speed of sound through the nucleus of an atom is supposedly equal to 1.1E8 cm/sec, equal to approx. 1/274 the speed of light, where 1/274 is approx. two times the so-called "fine-structure constant." How does this help us understand the nature of the atomic nucleus ??

  • Sir Cumference

    Sir Cumference Correct answer

    6 years ago

    The Sun is immensely loud. The surface generates thousands to tens of thousands of watts of sound power for every square meter. That's something like 10x to 100x the power flux through the speakers at a rock concert, or out the front of a police siren. Except the "speaker surface" in this case is the entire surface of the Sun, some 10,000 times larger than the surface area of Earth.



    Despite what "user10094" said, we do in fact know what the Sun "sounds" like -- instruments like SDO's HMI or SOHO's MDI or the ground-based GONG observatory measure the Doppler shift everywhere on the visible surface of the Sun, and we can actually see sound waves (well, infrasound waves) resonating in the Sun as a whole! Pretty cool, eh? Since the Sun is large, the sound waves resonate at very deep frequencies -- typical resonant modes have 5 minute periods, and there are about a million of them going all at once.



    The resonant modes in the Sun are excited by something. That something is the tremendous broadband rushing of convective turbulence. Heat gets brought to the surface of the Sun by convection -- hot material rises through the outer layers, reaches the surface, cools off (by radiating sunlight), and sinks. The "typical" convection cell is about the size of Texas, and is called a "granule" because they look like little grains when viewed through a telescope. Each one (the size of Texas, remember) rises, disperses its light, and sinks in five minutes. That produces a heck of a racket. There are something like 10 million of those all over the surface of the Sun at any one time. Most of that sound energy just gets reflected right back down into the Sun, but some of it gets out into the solar chromosphere and corona. No one can be sure, yet, just how much of that sound energy gets out, but it's most likely between about 30 and about 300 watts per square meter of surface, on average. The uncertainty comes because the surface dynamics of the Sun are tricky. In the deep interior, we can pretend the solar magnetic field doesn't affect the physics much and use hydrodynamics, and in the exterior (corona) we can pretend the gas itself doesn't affect the physics much. At the boundary layers above the visible surface, neither approximation applies and the physics gets too tricky to be tractable (yet).



    In terms of dBA, if all that leaked sound could somehow propagate to Earth, well let's see... Sunlight at Earth is attenuated about 10,000 times by distance (i.e. it's 10,000 times brighter at the surface of the Sun), so if 200 W/m2 of sound at the Sun could somehow propagate out to Earth it would yield a sound intensity of about 20 mW/m2. 0dB is about 1pW/m2 , so that's about 100dB. At Earth, some 150,000,000 kilometers from the sound source. Good thing sound doesn't travel through space, eh?



    The good folks at the SOHO/MDI project created some sound files of resonant solar oscillations by speeding up the data from their instrument by 43,000 times. You can hear those here, at the Solar Center website. Someone else did the same thing with the SDO/HMI instrument, and superposed the sounds on first-light videos from SDO. Both of those sounds, which sound sort of like rubber bands twanging, are heavily filtered from the data -- a particular resonant spatial mode (shape of a resonant sound) is being extracted from the data, and so you hear mainly that particular resonant mode. The actual unfiltered sound is far more cacophonous, and to the ear would sound less like a resonant sound and more like noise.


    What if we consider space filled with Earth-like air instead of attenuating sound as if it were light? I think that would be more in-spirit with OP's question :-)

    +1 for a quantitative answer. A fair fraction of the acoustic waves are probably used to heat the chromosphere. Do you have a reference for the 30-300 W per square metre?

    At 100dB it would be loud, but could we actually hear such low frequencies?

    Also, the sound as experienced at Earth would be attenuated as the inverse square law in exactly the same way as radiation, so paragraph 4 doesn't make much sense.

    I would like to know the loudness in audible frequencies. Are there any measurements about it or can we only estimate the loudness of the sounds caused by turbulences (like sound of wind on Earth - but is it created without land?).

    I agree with @AndrewCheong. Sound makes no sense without describing the medium that carries it, it is always a property of a physical medium and it's properties and attenuation fully depend on the medium. It can't exist in a vacuum the way light can.

    @AndrewCheong It's difficult to answer, because you have to choose how much physics to throw away when you answer a counterfactual. However, 3 minute or 5 minute or 20 minute waves would form shocks and/or dissipate as heat long before they reached Earth, if they had to travel through 1 AU of air. Also, if the Solar System was filled with that much air, it wouldn't last long. It would fall into the Sun pretty fast, and the Sun itself would get a lot brighter and a lot heavier. It might (given the composition of air) even immediately burst into its red giant phase and engulf the Earth.

    @user2813274 Well, the Sun as a whole doesn't resonate at higher frequencies than about 5 minute period (3mHz). The chromospheric layer (just above the visible surface or photosphere) resonates at about 3 minute period (5mHz). That doesn't mean there isn't sound at higher frequencies, just that it isn't resonant with a well-defined frequency. The photosphere could in principle support audible frequency sounds, but we have no way to detect them at this time. The layers above the photosphere can't, simply because the gas there is too tenuous.

    @user2813274 In the low corona the collision time is about 10 seconds, so the highest frequency "coronal ultrasound" is 100 mHz -- just like in air the collision time is something like 10-20 microseconds, so the highest frequency ultrasound in air is something like 50-100 kHz.

    For Europeans: Texas is about the size of France. Or for everyone: it's $696\,241\,\mathrm{km}^2$.

    I'm going to give you a bounty for good answer

    "typical resonant modes have 5 minute periods" : Wow. We did the math with a friend : this would render a note with a frequency of 0.33 mHz. Drop the bass already.

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM