The Huygens DISR: An Astonishing & Musical Data Visualization

January 22, 2015 - data / space / space studies / STS / visualization

From the title of the video you would never know this is one of the most visually captivating and melodious presentations of space probe data you may ever see. The video (from Erich Karkoschka, University of Arizona, the DISR team, NASA, and ESA) is titled “The Descent Imager / Spectral Radiometer During the Descent of Huygens onto Titan on January 14, 2005.” Huygens, the first spacecraft to land on Saturn’s moon Titan, was an atmospheric entry probe.

It is best seen and heard – so just watch it, in full screen, with the volume up enough to hear it. Now I want to investigate all the data ‘musicalizations’ that must be out there.

I wrote to Karkoschka and asked if anyone had commented on this musical aspect, and whether the tones were added later or as part of the original data and how it came about. He replied:


Maybe the following link answers your question. Let me know.


and then click the explanation link.

Here is an explanation of the source of the sound from the first link in Erich’s response.

“Sound was added in order to increase awareness of the various events. The sound in the left speaker follows the motion of Huygens. The pitch of the tone indicates the rotational speed, similar to the sound of an engine. The type of the tone varies with the tilt of the parachute. Vibrato indicates vibration of the parachute. Little clicks indicate the clocking of the rotation counter. Larger noise corresponds to the entry of the heat shield into the atmosphere, to parachute deployments, to the heat shield release, to the jettison of the DISR cover, and to touch down.

The sound in the right speaker follows the data from DISR. The pitch of the continuous tone goes with the strength of the signal from Huygens to Cassini.  The 13 different chime tones correspond to the workings of the 13 different components of DISR, in time with the flashing white dots to the left of the exposure counters. Naturally, the counters at the top and bottom get the high and low notes, respectively. All parts of DISR worked together as programmed, creating a harmony.”


Read more:
The Cassini-Huygens mission at ESA
The DISR Aboard Huygens