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Cosmic Music from Dying Stars

September 10th, 2012

Many people think of outer space as a place that is silent, desolate. And all we really know of it is what we can see, through light. However, Janna Levin, a professor of physics and astronomy at Barnard College, refutes that idea. Levin explained in a TED Talk about the sounds the universe can make, particularly while going through dramatically changing events.

Levin researches the early universe, including chaos theory and black hole creation. She’s also the author of “How the Universe Got Its Spots” and “A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines.”

Most “normal” sounds cannot exist in the vacuum of space. However, there are tens of thousands of black holes in space, formed by dying stars. These black holes spin around each other, treating spacetime (any model that combines space and time into a continuum) like a drum. When these gravitational waves hit Earth, some detectors are able to measure the movements and amplify the sound.

In an interview with CNN, Levin explained the space-sound phenomenon. “It’s important to realize the universe isn’t a silent film, because space itself wobbles and rumbles like a drum in response to all of these things unfolding in the cosmos,” Levin said.

Levin also believes that with the right recording and adjustments, people could hear these changes in the universe. While there is no air in space to compress the ringing against your ear, creating sound, the space itself is “ringing and squeezing and stretching,” allowing your eardrums to respond. The dramatic events are what your ears would take the most notice of.

Scientists are now designing experiments that can pick up the sounds in space–sounds that could even be played on your stereo, for the human ear to hear.

However, Levin cautions that listening to these space symphonies could be dangerous to your hearing, and head, in general.

“Your head would be squeezed and stretched unhelpfully, so you might have trouble understanding what’s going on,” Levin said.

To listen to and see examples of Levin’s theories of the sounds of space and black hole collisions, check out her webpage:

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