Alexei Leonov, cosmonaut, member of the Executive Board of STARMUS Festival:
Each star has its own tune
Humankind is largely oblivious to this curious new discovery about the sounds they make
Maria Koleva, Brussels
17 June, 2017
Close-up: Alexei Leonov is a Soviet cosmonaut who performed the first ever spacewalk in 1965 during a mission with the Voskhod 2 capsule. His next flight was ten years later as a commander of the Soyuz 19 spacecraft as part of the Soyuz-Apollo programme in cooperation with the United States. Leonov is a member of the Executive Board of the STARMUS Festival, whose fourth edition will take place between 18 and 23 June in Norway’s science hub Trondheim, hosted by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. The festival programme features ten Nobel Prize laureates, ten astronauts and cosmonauts, rock and pop stars, symphonic orchestras, artists, and film producers.
- Mr Leonov, how does the STARMUS Festival combine stars, science and music?
- It is all credit to STARMUS Festival Director Garik Israelian, one of the prominent contemporary astrophysicists. He really made me believe in a new branch of astrophysics - stars and music. Humanity has not noticed this curious new discovery about the sounds that stars make. The sound wave characteristics of the Sun were recorded back in 1962. Some were believers back then and others were not, but the findings have been gradually forgotten. Then it turned out that the sound wave profile of every star and planet is an important physical characteristic. Nowadays, there are great accomplishments in space study; people fly for a whole year. But ask about the names of these people and no one knows. We need to educate children about what stars are, how big they are, what the planet system of our galaxy is and that stars have voices too. Stars talk among each other and we know about it. Only 500 people out of the Earth’s 6 billion inhabitants have ever been to space.
- What does the music of stars sound like and can it be recreated?
- Each star has its own tune, just as every nation has its own voice, and it is hard to say whose voice is better. Perhaps the older generation of readers remembers the esteemed Peruvian singer Yma Sumac. She used to perform the Sun Anthem in four octaves and the very sound would cause chills to run down your body. The ancient Inca people certainly knew about planets’ voices. Garik Israelian has been successful in finding partners - renowned scientists, artists, musicians - and uniting them. In the festival’s first edition, which was held in the Canary Islands, we were given the opportunity to hear the music of stars for the first time, performed by a symphonic orchestra and [legendary Queen guitarist] Brian May. Perhaps you know that in addition to a brilliant musician, he is also an astrophysicist. There were about 2,000 people in the hall and they were all in some sort of a trance, so enthralling was the music, everything was vibrating. Neil Armstrong gave a fascinating talk under a giant telescope and even though he spoke about a complex matter, everyone comprehended his points. Stephen Hawking, who has taken part in the festival three times, possesses remarkable energy along with superhuman mental strength and intellectual ability. And yet you would not know it by the way he looks, it is one of nature’s mysteries.
- You are also an artist. What made you paint Stephen Hawking’s portrait?
- It was simply a sketch, pencil on paper work. When I showed it to him, he smiled. It was the first time that I had seen him smile. Then I had the idea of making a medal with the image of Stephen Hawking on to be given in recognition of exceptional achievements in the area of science and culture. The medals will be presented during this year’s festival in Norway.
- There are scientific reports of the existence of planets similar to the Earth and the possibility of humanity one day resettling to another planet. What is the likelihood of this happening?
- A place where processes run the same way as on Earth can certainly exist. However, the closest star to Earth is Proxima Centauri, some 5 solar years away, and unfortunately no one will be able to travel to it in the next 400 years. We need to preserve as much of our “blue planet” as we can. Even so, using Space to the betterment of humanity is certainly within reach. Today, Americans and Europeans work together on board of the International Space Station. We have learned to make metals, crystals and medicines there. Nothing has provided a bigger boost to the development of technologies in general than space programmes.
- How is the space cooperation between Russians and Americans going? Is it true that you have your own room in Thomas Stafford’s home?
- There would not have been any problems if people could cooperate on Earth as they do in space. Imagine for a moment that there was no Soyuz spacecraft. No one would be able to travel to space. After the end of NASA’s Space Shuttle programme, there are no other manned vehicles left. The US is currently working on a nice new spacecraft but it is still some time away. So every space programme nowadays relies on Soyuz spacecrafts and rockets. I was the commander of the Soviet spacecraft in the first joint programme with the US and I and Thomas Stafford have remained friends ever since. I do have a room in his home, just as he has one in mine. Our kids grew up together. His grandson is named Alexei and my granddaughter Karina was named after Stafford’s daughter.