Saturday, March 05, 2016

Gravitational Waves: Listening to the Cosmos

Today, my brother is giving a couple of talks about the Big Bang and Gravitational Waves in Fort Collins, CO. I assure you, he is a highly engaging educator who is remarkably enthusiastic and eloquent when it comes to this material. I encourage you to attend his presentations, today or in the future, especially if think you'd rather get your teeth pulled. Gavin's presentations exemplify that complex topics need not be "dumbed down" to be accurately presented and accessible to every listener in the room.

Speaking of which, I have little background in physics, aside from hearing my brother talk about it a lot (which may be quite significant, given his talents described above). I have yet to hear him speak about gravitational waves, but I read this wonderful New Yorker article about them and was thoroughly enthralled. So why am I posting about this on an otherwise music-related blog? Because I am fascinated by the ways that scientists are not only looking into the cosmos with telescopes, but also listening to it. It happens that the "chirp" of gravitational waves sounds like a glissando from the lowest A on the piano up to middle C. MIDDLE C! Can you believe that?!? Gravitational waves are within the spectrum of human hearing, but are too faint to be heard without state-of-the-art detection materials.

Gravitational waves travel at the speed of light. We are listening to events that happened 1.3 billion years ago. Even if it is the briefest, faintest "chirp," it is music to my ears.

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